SG govt says foreign students make up only around 10% of universities’ intake but Times Higher Education rankings shows at least 25 percent in NTU and NUS

SG govt says foreign students make up only around 10% of universities’ intake but Times Higher Education rankings shows at least 25 percent in NTU and NUS

An update to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings for 2021 ranked the National University of Singapore (NUS) as the 6th most international university in the world, while Nanyang Technological University (NTU) comes in at 9th.

What does this mean?

Well, according to the THE website, the ranking of the most international universities takes into account a university’s proportions of international students, international staff, journal publications with at least one international co-authors, and a university’s international reputation. All these pillars are given equal weight in the calculation of rankings.

For clarification, a university’s international reputation is the measure of “the proportion of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual invitation-only Academic Reputation Survey”, according to the website.

Back in 2019, TOC raised a concern about the ratio of international to local students in autonomous universities—like NUS and NTU. Based on figures from the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) website—a different yet equally respected global ranking—it seemed that about 25 percent of NUS’ spots went to international students. A similar ratio was recorded by QS for NTU.

This year, based on data from THE for 2021, about 26 percent of students at NUS are international students. THE records the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled in NUS at 30,943.

Source: Times Higher Education

This is significantly lower than data from NUS which states that the university has enrolled 41,885 students for 2020/2021. That’s 31,760 undergraduate students and 10.125 graduate students. So we already know there is a slight mismatch there on the number of students.

NUS also does not provide a breakdown of the ratio of international to local students. Though given the discrepancy above, it is possible that the ratio of international students at the university is more than 26 percent.

As for NTU, THE records that the student body of the university is 25 percent international students.

Source: Times Higher Education

Apart from the discrepancy between the numbers from THE and the universities itself, we also find a discrepancy between the figures given by the government.

Specifically in 2018, the government emphasised that there is no minimum quota for foreign students in Singapore’s autonomous universities. On the website, it stated that “Singapore is not actively courting foreign students to fulfil any form of minimum quota”.

The article, which was last updated in March 2018, went on to clarify: “In 2017, when replying to a Parliamentary Question on the percentage of foreigners attending our public universities, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung stated that foreign students make up only around 10% of the universities’ total undergraduate intake. This remains the case today.”

The thing is, data from THE clearly states that—at least for NTU and NUS—the student body is made up of at least 25 percent international students.

So clearly, there is still a discrepancy in the data on student ratio.


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