Education Minister Lawrence Wong revealed that about 1,600 foreign students received tuition grants each year over the past few years, in his response to new parliamentary questions on the perenially hot topic of how the ministry allocates resources for local and international students.
In Parliament this week, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David asked Mr Wong how many international students were accepted into local universities under the Tuition Grant Scheme (TGS) in the last five years and what those numbers as a percentage of the total university student population are.
He also asked whether the number of TGS international students will be reduced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and, if so, whether this reduction will mean more places for Singaporean students. The ruling party politician also asked about the consequences for international students who cannot meet their TGS bond commitments in the present COVID-19 employment market.
Sengkang GRC MP also asked the Education Minister about what contingency plans are in place for foreign recipients of scholarships to serve out their bonds given the tightened restrictions on access to employment and other foreign-worker passes.
He further asked whether the Ministry will consider alternative mechanisms for recent graduates to serve out their commitments such as a deferral of the bond period or service of their bond periods with Singapore-owned or Singapore-affiliated companies abroad.
Mr Wong reaffirmed his ministry’s commitment to meeting the needs of Singaporeans, and said that places in the Autonomous Universities (AUs) are planned first and foremost for Singaporeans. He added that more seats were set aside at the AUs, to cater to Singaporeans whose overseas study plans were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Wong also shed light on the admission process for international students. The AUs first admit Singaporean students who are able to meet their admission standards, before raising the bar a few notches to admit a small number of international students, over and above the local students.
Asserting that “no Singaporean is displaced from an AU because of an international student,” Mr Wong revealed that around 1,600 foreign students received tuition grants in each cohort over the last five years. This amounts to less than 10 per cent of each intake.
While the numbers for the 2020 academic year is still being finalised, Mr Wong said he expects to see a similar trend this year.
Mr Wong added that admitting some foreign students is beneficial to Singaporeans. He said: “Having some international students adds to the diversity of the overall education experience and cultivates students’ global orientation and inter-cultural skills. It also better prepares them for the future workplace, where they may have to interact with different nationalities.”
The Minister promised: “We will continue to review and adjust the number of international students on tuition grant in the future, taking into consideration the quality of applicants and other factors.”
While Mr Wong asserted that the Government’s priority remains to support locals in finding employment given the current job scarcity, he said that international tuition grant holders who are obliged to serve a three-year bond after graduation will also be treated fairly. These students can serve out their obligations in Singapore or with Singapore-registered companies abroad.
One way Mr Wong’s ministry helps international tuition grant holders is by working with the universities and other public agencies to facilitate their applications for work pass arrangements here, while keeping to the Fair Consideration Framework.
Students are also given time to stay in Singapore to look for a job while the Government will extend help on a case-by-case basis to those who have genuine difficulties finding employment.
Extolling the value of calibrating its approach according to the economic outlook, Mr Wong added: “We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approach appropriate to the economic situation and outlook.”