The Ministry of Education (MOE) has instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction to Mr Lim Tean on false statements made in two of his Facebook posts.
POFMA stands for the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act – an anti-fake news law that provides the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest. The law, which went into effect in October, gives ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and whether to take action.
The Government has flagged two Facebook posts published by Mr Lim on 12 December 2019 at 8.30am and 4pm respectively. In issuing the POFMA Correction Directive, the Education Minister charged that the Facebook posts by Mr Lim Tean contain false and misleading statements.
The Correction Direction requires Mr Lim to carry in full, the correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts.
In the Facebook posts that were flagged, Mr Lim had stated that “the total pot available to Singaporean students [is] $167 million compared to the $238 million that is spent on foreign students”. He further stated that “PAP spends $167 million on Grants & Bursaries for Singaporeans, but $238 million on foreign students??”.
These statements imply that MOE spends less on Singaporean students than on foreign students. The Education Ministry under Mr Ong Ye Kung said that this is false and misleading, and clarified:
“MOE’s annual budget is $13B, almost all of which is spent on Singapore citizens. 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. The figures of $167M and $238M are therefore not comparable.
“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.”
The Directive explained that the Education Minister explained this in Parliament on August 5.
The Education Ministry clarified that Singapore’s admissions system ensures that no Singaporean student is deprived of a place by a foreign student, and that having a small proportion of foreign students in our schools and institutions brings diversity into classrooms and helps our students develop cross-cultural competencies, which it described as “a key skill in today’s world.” It added:
“Likewise, many Singaporean students receive scholarships from, and study in, other countries. We are all part of an inter-connected global ecosystem. Singapore has benefited greatly from establishing such linkages and forming people to people friendships with different countries and cultures. Having some foreign students in our education system enables many more Singaporean students to enjoy similar benefits.”