Responding to a series of questions submitted by a fellow MP, the minister assured the country that the main aim of the education system is to “serve the needs of Singaporeans” and that “no Singaporean is ever displaced from an institute of higher learning because of an international student.”
“No Singaporean is ever displaced from an institute of higher learning because of an international student”
“We plan the number of IHL places with Singaporean students in mind… When all Singaporean students who meet the standards have been admitted, the IHLs then raise the bar by a few notches, and then admit a small minority of international students, over and above the local students,” Ong explained.
The government’s education budget, around $13 billion a year, is, according to the minister, “overwhelmingly” spent on local students to ensure affordable education, with spending on international students coming to around 1% of the annual education budget.
“The controversy over government spending on international students came about following reports online that said that government was spending over $300 million a year on international students.
“The real cost actually, I think it is well below $130 million a year, because $130 million is the worth of the scholarships to the students, not the cost to the education system as a whole,” Ong noted.
In the early 2000s, Singapore unveiled an ambitious plan to turn the state into a “global schoolhouse” that would see 150,000 international students attending schools in the country by 2015. Supported by the Singapore Education campaign, the initiative saw a record high of 90,000 students head to Singapore to study in 2010.
However, the project was discontinued following the 2011 election, which was strongly influenced by public anger at increased immigration and competitive job and housing markets.
In 2017, the government claimed that international students accounted for just 10% of undergraduates, far below the cap of 15% that was introduced by the new government.
Singapore is home to the top two universities in Asia – Nanyang Technological University and the National University if Singapore – which both ranked joint 11th on the QS World University Rankings 2020. The city itself was also listed 20th in the 2019 list of best student cities.