The National University of Singapore (NUS) has done the right thing by shedding light on its $9.5 billion reserves. About $230 million in investment returns from its endowment funds and from non-endowed donations is spent on operating expenditure for education, bursaries and research in the financial year ended March last year, it said. Specifically, $5.9 billion of its $9.5 billion reserves is in endowment funds. This means the principal endowment sum cannot be touched, and that only the income generated from investing the sum can be used. Along with other details which NUS released, these clarifications should go some way towards alleviating recent public concerns centred on whether the university's fund-raising has a limit or whether it is a bottomless pit.
Ideally, such questions should not arise. Voluntary contributions made to educational institutions and charities reflect the desire of beneficiaries or other public-spirited citizens to give back something to the institutions that shaped them, or which have contributed to the sustenance of an economic balance in society. Endowments enable places of learning to plan ahead and to weather economic downswings without affecting the quality of services they provide to students. These services include bursaries that help students from less-privileged backgrounds deal with the financial demands of tertiary education. Any gesture, small or big, that enables a student to fulfil his academic dream is welcome. Indeed, most Singaporeans would support those who choose to share their wealth with others such as by helping to make university education more affordable than it otherwise might be.