In the past three academic years, the six local universities handled 56 cases of sexual misconduct involving students, 14 of which were off campus.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung disclosed this yesterday in Parliament, as he made a call for universities' disciplinary processes to be "stringent but fair" and highlighted the need to tackle the growing concern of voyeurism in Singapore.
"We need to better balance the objectives of deterrence and redress for the victims against the rehabilitation of the offender. (This) is important for an education institution, but it should not end up with penalties that are too soft and too lenient," he said.
Giving a breakdown of the 56 cases, Mr Ong said 17 took place in academic year 2015, 18 in academic year 2016 and 21 in academic year 2017. Two-thirds of the cases were related to voyeurism, referring to Peeping Tom incidents and filming of people in vulnerable positions.
Mr Ong said there is "no discernible trend" of late relating to sexual misconduct by undergraduates. The rate has hovered around 0.2 student perpetrator per 1,000 students in the last three academic years, he added.
His comments come in the wake of a public outcry over how the National University of Singapore (NUS) handled a case of sexual voyeurism. Ms Monica Baey, 23, took to social media recently to express her frustration over the punishment given to fellow student Nicholas Lim, also 23, for filming her showering in Eusoff Hall.
The NUS disciplinary board had suspended him for a semester, banned him from entering all hostels, and made him write an apology letter to Ms Baey and undergo mandatory counselling.
We need to better balance the objectives of deterrence and redress for the victims against the rehabilitation of the offender. (This) is important for an education institution, but it should not end up with penalties that are too soft and too lenient.
EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG
UNDERSTANDING CONSEQUENCES OF ACTIONS
We must ensure that potential offenders know the severe consequences of their actions, including the impact on their future.
Yesterday, Mr Ong said 25 of the 56 cases were from NUS and two from Yale-NUS College, which has its own disciplinary board.
Twenty cases were from Nanyang Technological University, and six from Singapore Management University. The Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Social Sciences each had one case.
He also disclosed that of the 56 cases, the victims in 37 cases made police reports. Four of these cases are under investigation, and there was insufficient evidence to make out offences in two of them.
Of the remaining 31 cases, 10 resulted in jail terms of between 10 days and eight months. Mr Ong said these were serious offences, involving outrage of modesty or multiple instances of voyeurism.
Separately, the universities also carry out their own disciplinary hearings and mete out a mix of penalties, ranging from an official reprimand, which is reflected in a student's educational record, to suspension and expulsion.
Of the 56 cases, five await hearings while four students quit the university before sanctions were imposed, he added.
Of the remaining 47 cases, 34 received an official reprimand, 26 were suspended for up to two school terms and 20 were banned from entering students' dormitories. Cases typically receive a combination of penalties, said Mr Ong.
He noted that of the 10 police cases that led to jail sentences, there was only one expulsion. This was later reduced to an 18-month suspension after the offender filed an appeal and the board took into account his psychiatric condition.
The universities will strengthen their penalties, Mr Ong said. "Two strikes and you're out" cannot be applied across the board, he added, but neither should expulsion be the default for all forms of misconduct.
"We must ensure that potential offenders know the severe consequences of their actions, including the impact on their future," he said. But offenders who are truly remorseful and have served their punishment deserve a chance to make good.
Yesterday, MPs like Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) asked if the Ministry of Education (MOE) would have taken action if the NUS debacle had not come to light.
Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera and Nominated MP Anthea Ong asked about common discipline standards, hostel arrangements and security across universities.
In response, Mr Ong said the autonomous universities (AUs) have their own boards and "govern themselves in a fairly independent way separate from MOE".
But he said MOE will work with the universities - not by issuing rules or regulations - but through discussions on adequate penalties.
"Of course we wish that there was a realisation that this is a serious offence. Voyeurism is a rising concern. But... today, after this incident, I believe the AUs are all very aware and I'm confident they will do something swift and decisive."