United World College halts intake of Singaporeans

United World College tells parents their number has hit 'significant level'

At least one popular international school here has closed its doors to Singaporeans, as more parents explore options beyond the mainstream local schools.

The United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) has told parents that it is no longer accepting applications from locals, as the number of Singaporeans in the college had "reached a significant level".

The Straits Times understands that affected students include those who have an expatriate parent and are allowed to hold dual citizenship because they are under the age of 21.

Singaporeans who wish to attend international schools are required to get approval from the Ministry of Education (MOE). Approval is granted on a case-by- case basis.

Singaporean students make up about 4 per cent of enrolment in the more than 30 international schools here.

MOE declined to give figures on the total number of international school students. But market research shows that some 40,000 attend these schools.

UWCSEA has about 5,000 students from 80 nationalities attending classes from kindergarten to high school.

It offers both the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education programme and the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme. Parents pay as much as $30,000 a year in school fees.

The school, which started with one campus in Dover Road, opened another one in Tampines in 2008 to cope with demand.

Application for its 2014 intake will begin in September.

When The Straits Times called the hotline of both campuses, officers said the school had stopped accepting applications from Singaporeans since April last year. One officer said the school was told by MOE that the number of Singaporeans in the college had "reached a significant level".

A parent, whose six-year-old son attended kindergarten at the Tampines campus, said she was told by the college last year that her son may not be able to move on to Grade 1 - the equivalent of Primary 1 - which would require MOE's approval.

"They told me that the school had reached its quota of Singaporean students, and they can't take in more," said the housewife who declined to be named. She is married to an Italian, and her son holds both Singaporean and Italian citizenship.

"A lot of affected parents gave their feedback to the school... and the school got back to us to say that existing students can stay on, but they will not be able to accept new Singaporean students," she said.

The Straits Times understands that other schools, such as the Tanglin Trust School, are still accepting applications from locals.

But a spokesman for UWCSEA said: "As far as we are aware, there is no quota." She said the school monitors the number of applications from locals, but declined to disclose how many Singaporean students it has.

An MOE spokesman would only say the percentage of Singaporeans attending international schools "has remained relatively stable over the years".

"Singaporean children, by and large, should attend MOE mainstream schools, which provide a common educational experience, and help build a national identity, a common spirit and social cohesion," said the spokesman.

"Only exceptional cases, such as a child facing strong reintegration challenges after a prolonged period of overseas schooling, are considered for admission to foreign system schools on a case- by-case basis."

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said more mixed marriages involving a foreign spouse could be a factor contributing to the interest in international schools.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Education deputy chairman Denise Phua said that some parents "may genuinely prefer the international school system, which is run on a different philosophy, and is less focused on academics".