People’s Voice Party (PVP) chief Lim Tean’s statement on the Government’s spending on foreign students is “false and misleading”, according to the Government’s fact-checking website Factually on Mon (16 Dec).
The website stated that contrary to Mr Lim’s assertion that “the total pot available to Singaporean students [is] $167 million compared to the $238 million that is spent on foreign students”, the Ministry of Education (MOE) spends “almost all” of its S$13 billion annual budget on Singaporean students.
“The $167M cited by Mr Lim refers only to bursaries for Singaporean tertiary students, and grossly understates MOE’s total spending on Singaporean citizens for education,” Factually wrote, adding that the S$238 million figure cited by Mr Lim for foreign students is “not comparable” to the S$167 million he had cited for Singaporean students.
“These statements imply that MOE spends less on Singaporean students than on foreign students,” according to the website.
“The more appropriate comparison should be nearly $13B spent on Singaporean students to provide subsidised education for all Singaporean students at all levels, as against the $238M attributed to foreign students referred to by Mr Lim Tean, which is less than 2% of the total education budget.
“Further, it should be noted that much of MOE’s budget goes towards costs such as infrastructure, facilities, laboratories, faculty and teaching force, etc., which are either fixed or non-variable up to the medium term, to provide education for Singaporean students.
“A large part of the $238M attributed to foreign students comprises these fixed and non-variable costs that we have to incur anyway, whether or not we admit a small proportion of foreign students (currently 5%) in the system,” Factually added, in reference to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s parliamentary reply to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera in Aug.
“Our admissions system ensures that no Singaporean student is deprived of a place by a foreign student. Having a small proportion of foreign students in our schools and institutions brings diversity into classrooms and helps our students develop cross-cultural competencies, a key skill in today’s world,” Factually wrote.
The website’s correction was made in response to Mr Lim’s Facebook post last Wed (12 Dec) regarding the alleged difference between the Government’s spending on Singaporean students and foreign students.
Mr Lim’s statement was made in relation to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement in his National Day Rally speech in Aug to “significantly” increase government bursaries from up to 50 per cent of general degree fees today to up to 75 per cent.
Noting that 6 in 10 students in Singapore’s polytechnics and universities are eligible for government bursaries, he said that the increased bursaries and lowered fees will not only benefit lower-income students, but will serve “many middle income students too”.
“Students in Government-funded diploma and degree programmes at ITE, NAFA, and LASALLE will also be covered,” noted Mr Lee.
Bursaries for students taking up Medicine in particular will be “significantly more generous” than those for other courses, as the course “has the highest course fees of all the university courses”, said Mr Lee.
The changes in fees and bursaries, he said, will apply to both existing and new students, starting the next academic year.
S$167mil a charitable figure, $44mil less than announced by PM in NDR2019 speech: PVP chief
Mr Lim, who was asked by the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office via an email today to correct the claims made in the above Facebook post, said that the correction order is “a pathetic demand by a government that is obviously nervous about public reaction to the established fact that it spends $238 million on grants and scholarships on foreign students compared to $167 million on grants and bursaries on local students every year”.
The correction direction, initiated by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, requires Mr Lim to display a correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts in full.
Section 2(2)(b) of POFMA stipulates that a statement is false “if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears”.
Mr Lim said that he was “being generous” in citing the $167 million figure, as “it was $44 million less until Lee Hsien Loong announced the $44 million increase in his National Day Rally speech in August this year”.
“Singaporeans should have no illusion that this is a government that was spending close to $500 million on grants and scholarships for foreign students before that figure was halved to $238 million compared to $123 million on Singaporean students.
“Anyone who read my post and the series of posts I made on this subject last week would have been under no mistaken impression that I was discussing the amount of money spent on grants and scholarships and not the overall spending on ALL Singaporean students,” he said.
Mr Lim, who is also a lawyer, said that he is “considering” his “legal options regarding this notice”, and opined that POFMA “is being used by this government ahead of the upcoming GE to silence its Opponents and chill public discussion of unpopular government policies”.
“It is so absurd it is laughable and to me POFMA is the “ Cry Baby “ legislation that must be repealed on the very 1st day a non-PAP Government is elected into office,” he added.
Lim Tean’s case marks fourth time since POFMA has been invoked
Mr Lim’s case marks the fourth time in which POFMA was used since it came into effect on 2 Oct, and came on the heels of the correction directions issued by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo against two Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Facebook posts and an online article alleging that the increased retrenchment of local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) were tied to competition from their foreign counterparts
According to MOM, the Singapore economy is continuing to create jobs despite the economic headwinds. It emphasised that local PMET employment has increased consistently and there is no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise.
It went on to state that the alleged false and misleading statements by the SDP have a singular objective, which is to stoke fear and anxiety among local PMETs.
SDP on Sun (15 Dec) issued a statement in response to the three correction orders, citing various public reports from mainstream media as the basis for the statements that the ministry had taken an issue with.
The party also said that while it will comply with the correction orders, it will be applying to cancel the Correction Directions as they claimed that “the conclusions that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has come to are disputable”.
Last month, the POFMA Office — under the instructions of Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam — issued a Correction Direction to States Times Review founding editor Alex Tan Zhi Xiang regarding a post made by the NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook page in relation to the alleged religious affiliation of People’s Action Party (PAP) member Rachel Ong.
Mr Tan, a Singaporean who lives abroad, is also the editor of Temasek Review News and Singapore Herald, both of which were found to breach the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA’s) Internet Code of Practice and are subsequently blocked by the IMDA.
“This is not the first time that these websites, as well as States Times Review, have perpetuated outright fabrications, such as misrepresenting Singapore’s position in foreign relations with other countries and casting aspersions on the integrity of public institutions,” added the MHA.
STR, however, has announced that it will not be complying with the correction order. In a separate Facebook post, STR’s editor Alex Tan said: “We have not received any request from the Australian Federal Police or the authorities to take down any article.”
“States Times Review and its editor, who is now a citizen of Australia, will not comply with any order from a foreign government like North Korea or Singapore,” he added.
Prior to Mr Tan’s case, the POFMA Office issued its first CD to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer on 25 Nov regarding a Facebook post he made, in which he questioned the independence of Temasek Holdings and GIC.
Mr Bowyer was instructed to include a statement on his post saying that it contained inaccuracies, and to include a link to the government’s ‘Factually’ website. The issuance of the CD for Mr Bowyer was instructed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Following the correction order issued to STR, Mr Bowyer said on Facebook: “In my mind, the States Times Review can loosely be described as a parody site that often takes a smattering of what is in the social media cycle of the day and embellishes it in colourful ways to create its unique and sensationalised worldview.”
He continued: “I certainly do not take it seriously. However, I can understand the government’s concern that those new to the States Times Review content may mistake this is as real news, and thus feels it must act, although I feel the exact best way to do this is still up for debate.”