SINGAPORE - About 4 per cent of international students default on their bonds now, and the tuition grants given to this group amounts to some $5.5 million a year.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung gave these figures on Monday (Aug 5), and said his ministry will continue to "make suitable recovery efforts".
The Ministry of Education (MOE) takes a serious view of this small proportion of defaulters, he added. "It is not just a matter of money, but also honour and trust."
He said the MOE has taken action to prevent those who fail to pay liquidated damages from working or living in Singapore.
Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) had asked for the number of international students who defaulted on their bond obligations in the last three years, the amount in grants they received, and outcomes of recovery efforts.
Mr Png noted that as of 2016, about $30 million in grants were given to international students who defaulted on their bonds.
On why the amount of grants doled out to defaulters has come down from $30 million to $5.5 million, Mr Ong said there was a backlog of international students whom the MOE was still trying to contact back in 2016.
"Some were working here but didn't declare that to us, so they became a question mark. Others were indeed defaulters. We put all of them together and it came up to $30 million still being accounted for," the minister said.
Since then, the MOE has managed to contact "practically all of them" and thus is able to determine that the default rate is 4 per cent, amounting to about $5.5 million a year in grants, he added.
"We have tightened the recovery over the last few years. It means there's no running away from calling them, giving them the right forms to fill at the right time and then also having good border control," Mr Ong said.
International students who default on their bonds will not be able to game the system and return to Singapore, once the Government has their names and identity numbers, he noted.
It is "inevitable" that some international students will not honour their bonds, the minister said.
"But we will try to tighten the selection, make sure we've picked the right people and make sure that they will continue to fulfil their obligations."