An honest reply to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (from outside Parliament)

by Kok Ming Cheang

As a true-blue Pioneer citizen who have lived through the era of our founding fathers, just reading the reported Parliamentary debate between Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Workers’ Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera and MP Png Eng Huat, tells me that the Ministry of Education has a mountain of information to hide on the subject of government awards of scholarship and tuition grants to foreign students.

If I were asked the same question by Minister Ong on what I would do if I were the Education Minister and if I would send all the foreign students home, (an empty challenge thrown at Leon Perera), my honest reply is simple and straightforward.

As Education Minister under a new regime, there is no way to continue expending $130 million a year on scholarship and $210 million on tuition grants, (now reduced by Minister to $108 million), totaling $340 million a year on foreign students in studying in our local universities, polytechnics and other educational institutions because this PROGRAM is wrong in principles, to start with.

Minister Ong’s justifications of this program for foreign students are summarised as follows:

1. $130 million a year is just 1% of Singapore’s annual Education budget of $13 billion as the budget is spent “overwhelmingly” on local students;

2. Annual government spending on scholarships and tuition grants for foreign students has fallen by 50% over the past 10 years, which means it is fine to continue to give free tax payers’ money away to educate foreign students.

3 The $130 million and $108 million are nominal figures…”but do not reflect the cost to the system as a whole, noting that overhead costs such as building and manpower will be incurred even without foreign students.”

Response: What he meant was that since taxpayers’ money has already been incurred on the infrastructure and manpower in the universities and polytechnics, it is no problem to bring in foreign students at no cost to them. What kind of logic is this from a Minister? Why did MOE raise the tuition fees for the universities, polytechnics and ITEs a year or two ago, adding extra financial burden on the parents of undergraduates.

4. There are advantages of admitting foreign students into local IHLs, give Singaporean students opportunities to build bonds and networks with students from other countries … and they are also a catchment of people who can contribute to Singapore.”

Response: This is so “primary school” in substance. Does he know some foreign students on scholarship in the universities mocked our Singapore students and boosted their free grants and pocket money given to them by our government while our poor boys and girls have to work part-time to earn pocket money to go to school?

5. “Every education system in the world will provide some support to international students and Singaporeans are also benefiting from foreign sponsorships for their studies.” I know this is not correct. Now, Minister Ong admitted “The aid given by universities in other countries comes from the university…

Response: In our system, it’s a bit (no,BIG) different. Ours is a much more public and centralised system.” And he was unable to provide any numbers to show how much other governments are spending on scholarship and tuition grants for foreign students. Why the need to go so far? Just tell us how much funds did China and India spent on scholarship and tuition grants for Singapore students studying in their educational institutions?

Despite the fact that this scholarship and tuition grant program has existed for over 10 years, the government has not even issued a full report on the actual amount it spent to educate the foreign students, the benefits accrued to Singapore and how much value they have added to the quality of academic performance to our universities.

The total supervision and management of this scholarship and tuition grant program has proven to be slack by the MOE over a long period of time with no good excuse. Compare the handling of the foreign students up to 4% who defaulted on bond obligations to our local scholars who are certain to face legal action and public reprimand.

The justifications provided by Minister Ong to support the scholarship and tuition grant program cuts no ice because the millions of dollars spent on foreign students can be better used to help and support more Singapore students to universities.

To say that foreign scholarship students do not displace Singaporeans in universities and polytechnics cannot be correct because all foreign students, upon receiving a confirmation of scholarship, are assured of a place in the selected university while our local students are still in the queue for a place.

In each cohort, about 2000 foreign students were admitted into the local universities with scholarship and tuition grants. if these places are given to our local polytechnic graduates, more can pursue tertiary education at home instead of having to spend a huge sum to go overseas on fathers’ scholarship.

In my view, this scholarship and tuition grant program, has more political objectives than educational. If what Minister Ong said were good justifications to continue with such program, then why is the government not submitting a full report to Parliament for a thorough debate. This matter is long overdue in the hands of the Education Minister, whoever he may be.

Peoples Voice supports a full investigation into this scholar and tuition program for foreign students. All foreign students are welcome to come and study in our top-rated universities, polytechnics and junior colleges but on their own cost.

This was first published on Mr Kok’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission. Mr Kok is a member of the Peoples Voice Party

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