Spotlighting the 10 wealthiest charities in Singapore by donations and business subsidiaries, it was revealed in a Sunday Times article that the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have billions of dollars in reserves.
In the financial year that ended in March last year, NUS apparently collected $227 million in donations which adds to its investment income of S$620 million and reserves of S$9.5 billion.
As for NTU, the university raised $50 million in donations on top of $149 in investment income in that same year. It has also $3.7 billion in reserves.
SUTD clocked in the smallest reserves of the three – but still significant – of $1.2 billion which is compounded by S$27 million it raised in donations and $66 million it earned in investment incomes for the same period.
Speaking to Sunday Times, an NUS spokesperson said the university utilises its investment income from its endowment and reserves to finance operational costs, scholarships, research and to promote entrepreneurship.
The spokesperson was responding to the question of why these universities are still actively fund-raising and seeking out donations when they already have such a healthy reserve.
She elaborated, “To enhance the long-term financial sustainability of NUS, we have to continue to raise funds to maintain the health of our endowment and reserves.”
An NTU spokesman, meanwhile, said that raising funds was essential in order to reduce the institutions reliance on public funding, noting that multiple sources of funding are necessary to enable NTU to “deliver quality education and research and build a culture of innovation and community engagement that translate into jobs and real benefits for society.”
Billions in reserves for whose benefit?
Following the Sunday Times article, questions started to surface from the public on why these public institutions need such a massive reserve to the tune of billions? How much is enough? Most pertinently, why are tuition fees so high – and still rising – when these universities clearly do not need the money?
Sharing a photo of the table detailing the universities’ income and reserves over the last three years, HR expert Martin Gabriel pointedly said on a Facebook post:
“Our Universities are sitting on billions of dollars! With NUS & NTU accumulating 9.5 and 3.7 billion dollars in reserves respectively. And yet we educate foreign students with that money, while our very own people go overseas to seek a tertiary education or for those who cannot afford, is totally denied.”
He also highlighted how local students are constantly encouraged to take on skills training for blue collar jobs instead of pursuing a university degree as well as the fact that university fees have been on a steady rise.
Commenters on Mr Gabriel’s post suggested that getting Singaporeans into blue collar jobs and importing foreign students was a way to increase the population of Singapore:
Taiwanese-based Singapore activist Roy Ngerng also voiced his opinion on the matter of these billion dollar reserves. Mr Ngerng said in a Facebook post:
“In fact, I have calculated that Singaporeans are paying enough in taxes to fund the complete operations of Singapore’s public universities as well as other tertiary institutions like the polytechnics, ITEs and arts schools, but Singaporeans are still made to pay S$1 billion dollars in fees in 2017, to help these institutions earn S$1.3 billion in surpluses.”
The activist pointed out the flow of these earnings from the universities. He elaborated that the government uses taxes to fund the full operation of these institutions who then charge their Singaporean students some of the most expensive fees in the world. Those profits are then channelled into the national reserves which then flow into the country’s sovereign wealth funds in order to earn even more profits for the country.
“In other words, Singaporeans already pay more than enough in taxes for their education, but the PAP government makes Singaporeans pay additional fees (the 5th highest in the world), to let these institutions earn surpluses. While youths who graduate go into debt.”
Mr Ngerng asks, “Is this fair?”
Rising fees despite healthy reserves
It sure doesn’t sound fair at all. Back in march, local universities had announced an increase in their annual tuition fees for 2019, specifically for the medical and dentistry programs. The Ministry of Education has said in a statement at the time that subsidiaries will cover almost 75% of the total cost of education.
In detail, there was a S$500 increase in medical and dental course fees for Singaporean citizens in medical and a S$900 and S$1,050 increase in fees for PRs and international students respectively. That brings the total course fees to S$39,550 and S$60,800 respectively. The largest increase was for the full course fees for students who are not recipients of the MOE tuition grant – this went up by a whopping S$2,700. That brings the annual fee up to S$152,000.
Apart from that, NUS’s music programme saw an increase of S$500 for citizens, S$700 for PRs and S$1,050 for international students. Again, the biggest increase was seen in the annual fees for students who don’t qualify for the MOE grant. This went up by S$4,200 to S$117,350.
Similar increases were implemented in NTU as well with their medical course fees rising by S$700 for PRs and S$1,050 for international students bringing annual fees to S$48,600 and S$74,250 respectively.
Now, while the increase in fees for Singapore citizens were the smallest of the three categories, the fact remains that university fees in Singapore are extremely high. But given the amount of reserves these universities apparently have, it begs the question of why is there a need to increase tuition fees at all which only serves to increase the financial burden on students and parents?
As Mr Ngerng asked, “Is this fair?”