Six top independent schools in Singapore have had their funding cut and, along with other mission schools, have been told to moderate fund-raising activities for campus upgrading.
In addition, they will have to comply with a new directive urging all schools with air-conditioned classrooms to install fans and use air-conditioning only when necessary.
The six schools rank among the top in the Singapore education scene, comprising the Raffles secondary schools and its junior college, Hwa Chong Institution, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and NUS High School of Mathematics and Science.
They all run both the Integrated Programme (IP) and Gifted Education Programme (GEP). The IP provides a seamless secondary and junior college education with students bypassing the O levels. The GEP caters to students in the top 1 to 2 per cent of their cohort.
School officials did not want to disclose how much funding was cut, but The Straits Times understands all six schools used to get additional per capita grants for each student on the IP and GEP, but now have had the IP portion taken away. Alumni and sources close to the schools estimate the IP portion is between 4 and 8 per cent of operating budgets, or over a million dollars a year.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has also told all independent and mission schools to "moderate" their fund-raising activities for campus upgrading.
Schools need to get MOE approval if they want to raise money for "non-standard" features such as swimming pools. MOE is now warning that it will give the green light only if the facility is "essential" to school programmes.
The raft of changes comes at a time of rising concern over the worsening student diversity in top schools here. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented that top secondary schools were becoming "closed circles" last year when announcing MOE's plans to encourage more students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds to aim for a place in the most competitive schools.
MOE will also from this year start restricting the number of places in any primary school reserved for alumni parents.
The gap between Singapore's top and neighbourhood schools has over the decades widened partly as a result of factors like bigger and better facilities built with alumni funds.
Parent Annie Lim, 47, who chose not to send her son to an independent school, applauded MOE for being "sensible".
"Why should some schools have pools and tennis courts? I'd rather taxpayers' money is spent building such facilities for a cluster of schools."
However, one alumni member, who served as a member of an independent school board, asked if MOE was going too far. "I hope it doesn't lead to MOE bringing everyone down so that all schools are more or less equal, instead of levelling everyone up."
In a reply to The Straits Times, MOE said it reviews schools' funding regularly and in a holistic manner. After taking everything into account, it added, independent schools saw changes in "total resourcing" ranging from cuts of 3 per cent to increases of 5 per cent.
As for the curbs on fund-raising, MOE said it "already invests significantly in the infrastructure of each school" and added schools should consider the cost of operating these non-standard facilities.