SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) has the largest endowment fund of the six local universities here - $5.9 billion in the financial year that ended in March last year.
It is followed by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) at $1.9 billion, and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) at $1.1 billion.
Next is the Singapore Management University (SMU) at $1 billion, followed by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) at $400 million each for the same time period.
Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) had asked Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament about the size of the six local universities' endowment funds and details of their usage.
The issue was in the news after The Straits Times ran a series of stories on the 10 wealthiest charities in terms of donations here and found that NUS was the most successful fund raiser here.
The university collected $227 million in donations and had $9.5 billion in reserves in the financial year that ended in March last year.
Reserves are operating surpluses that are accumulated over the years and are typically tied up in assets, which can be in the form of buildings and long-term investments, Mr Ong said.
"What is pertinent is the use of endowment funds," he added. "The autonomous universities set up endowment funds, with government support, because they should have a separate stream of income such that they can embark on their own programmes and activities without always depending on the Government."
He explained that the endowment fund is invested and only a portion of the investment returns is spent.
The rest is re-invested.
For endowment funds, the principal sum in the endowment cannot be touched and only the income generated from investing the sum is used for various purposes.
Mr Ong said the biggest use of endowment income is to pay for operating expenditure in delivering subsidised education.
Other major uses are to provide bursaries and scholarships, fund research projects and support students' overseas internships and other programmes that enrich their learning experience.
He added that the Education Ministry also contributes significantly to the universities' endowment funds, by matching donations they raise.
Last week, NUS said it spent about $230 million in investment returns from its endowment fund and from non-endowed donations on operating expenditure for education, among other things, in the financial year that ended in March last year.
Mr Ong said: "It is common practice internationally for universities to build up their endowment funds through donations to support students and activities outside of education, such as research and enterprise."