No Singaporean student is ever displaced from an institute of higher learning (IHL) because of a foreign student, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
He told the House the number of places in IHLs is planned with Singaporean students in mind. After admitting all Singaporeans who meet their standards, the IHLs "raise the bar by a few notches" and admit a "small minority" of foreign students.
Mr Ong gave this assurance in response to Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who asked about government spending on foreign students.
The minister said the annual education budget of about $13 billion is "overwhelmingly" spent on local students, through subsidies and financial aid to make education affordable. Such financial aid, in the form of assistance and bursaries, is for Singaporeans only, he added.
Annual government spending on scholarships and tuition grants for foreign students has fallen by about 50 per cent over the past 10 years, Mr Ong said.
Spending on such scholarships comes up to around $130 million a year, while expenditure on tuition grants amounts to about $108 million. However, these are nominal figures, Mr Ong said.
Those amounts are the value of the scholarships and tuition grants awarded to foreign students, but do not reflect the cost to the system as a whole, he added, noting that overhead costs such as buildings and manpower will be incurred even without foreign students.
WP REJECTING FOREIGN STUDENTS?
May I know what is the member's or the member's party's position with regard to international students in our schools and at our universities? Do you advocate a zero international students policy?
EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG
SOME SPENDING JUSTIFIED
My view would be that a certain amount of spending is certainly justified and that spending has to be calibrated based on the benefits that we receive back.
WORKERS' PARTY NON-CONSTITUENCY MP LEON PERERA
Highlighting the advantages of admitting foreign students into local IHLs, Mr Ong said they give Singaporean students opportunities to build bonds and networks with students from other countries - "an increasingly important aspect of education because we are working in a globalised, multicultural world".
International students are also "a catchment" of people who can contribute to Singapore, he said, noting that those awarded scholarships are required to work here for at least three years after graduating.
Even if they leave after fulfilling their obligations, they can "be part of our valuable global network of fans and friends", said Mr Ong.
He also pointed to reputable universities around the world that admit international students and provide them with financial support, such as Oxford and Yale.
"Singaporeans studying overseas also benefit from subsidised fees or scholarships from overseas universities... We give some and take some, and our IHLs cannot depart from this international practice norm, and have to be part of this global education network."
Mr Perera asked if the Ministry of Education (MOE) tracks the proportion of government spending on foreign students in other developed countries, as a percentage of their education budget.
Mr Ong replied: "The aid given by universities in other countries comes from the university... In our system, it's a bit different.
"Ours is a much more public and centralised system."
MOE does not track how much other governments spend on foreign students, he added.
"We can try to find out some numbers but there is no doubt that all systems around the world use their universities to attract talent all over the world... There's a fight for talent in the whole world. I think we can't run away from that."
Mr Ong also asked Mr Perera about his position on the issue, and whether he advocated a "zero international students policy".
Mr Perera said: "My view would be that a certain amount of spending is certainly justified and that spending has to be calibrated based on the benefits that we receive back."