Cost of university degree in Singapore set to rise: Economic Intelligence Unit study

The cost of a university degree in Singapore is set to rise, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The cost of a university degree in Singapore is set to rise, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. PHOTO: ST FILE

The cost of a university degree in Singapore is set to rise, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Released yesterday, the study projected that a four-year degree will cost 70.2 per cent of an individual's average yearly income in 2030, up from 53.1 per cent in 2015.

Since 2010, tuition fees at local universities have gone up every year for most undergraduate courses, mainly due to rising operating costs.

For instance, a local undergraduate entering the National University of Singapore's faculty of arts and social science this academic year (2016) would pay $8,050 annually, up from $7,950 last year (2015).

Another projection showed that Singapore's education spending will dip from 3.4 per cent of gross domestic product last year to 2.7 per cent in 2030, largely due to falling birth cohort sizes and a growing population aged over 60 years.

The study, known as the Yidan Prize Forecast, Education to 2030, was released today (May 22) at a press conference held at the Kowloon Shangri-La in Hong Kong.

It was commissioned by the Yidan Prize Foundation, a global education foundation based in Hong Kong and named after its founder Charles Chen Yidan, a Chinese Internet philanthropist.

The EIU study, conducted from January to March, looked at future trends in education across 25 economies including Hong Kong, the United States, Germany, and Japan.

It focused on five indicators: public expenditure on education, youth unemployment, affordability of education, number of graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) fields and the access to Internet in schools.

Historical data was collected from sources such as the Unesco Institute for Statistics, the World Economic Forum, EIU income data, as well as university rankings.

For each of the five metrics, the EIU derived results based on econometric models that would forecast how these trends would continue in the next 14 to 15 years.

For instance, the affordability of a university degree was based on factors such as inflation rates, analyst feedback and research.

According to projections, Singapore's proportion of Stem graduates in its labour force will grow slightly to 0.4 per cent in 2030, from 0.3 per cent last year.

Mr Chris Clague, editor of the EIU report, said this forecast could be worrying, depending on Singapore's priorities and if its job market will need Stem skills, as this might mean a skills mismatch.

The report also cited a separate 2015 study by the US National Science Foundation which noted that Stem knowledge and skills are used in more occupations than traditionally thought of, including finance, and sales and marketing.

Such a trend is likely to intensify in the next 15 years and beyond as technology becomes more central to different jobs, it said.

Meanwhile, Singapore's youth unemployment rate is projected to remain low - from 10.9 per cent last year to 10.8 per cent in 2030.

The Republic is also among the top performers for having Internet access in schools in 2015, coming in joint second with Finland with a 6.4 on a scale of 1 to 7, with the latter being the best.

This improves to 6.5 in 2030, although Hong Kong, Finland and Norway are expected to surpass that level by then.

Yesterday's event also saw the launch of the Yidan Prize - the largest education award of its kind in terms of monetary value.

There will be two awards each year, - one recognising education research and the other initiatives that promote development in education. Each winner will receive a cash prize of HK$15 million (S$2.67 million) and a fund of HK$15 million based on the principle of impact investment, to be distributed in three instalments over three years to fund research or projects.

Nominations for the prize will open next month (June). Individuals such as teachers, academics, and policymakers, among others, from around the world including Singapore can apply. The first winners will be announced in September next year (17).

Speaking at the press conference yesterday, Mr Chen, who funded the prize, said education is close to his heart as he sees the potential of university education in helping people discover themselves.

"The prize recognises and supports agents of change whose work transforms education in a sustainable way, and encourages innovative approaches to education research and development," he said.