2,000 more university places offered this year amid coronavirus pandemic disruptions

Each of the six local universities received between 19 and 550 applications during the second admissions exercise held in May. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The six Autonomous Universities (AU) have stepped up to offer around 2,000 more places this year because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Some of the additional offers went to Singaporeans whose overseas study plans had been disrupted by the pandemic. Another group receiving the offers are polytechnic diploma holders who had previously intended to join the workforce, but were now opting to study because of the weak job market.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) on Monday (July 6) said the additional offers were made across a range of courses, while maintaining admission standards.

It is not known how many additional places this will translate to, as some applicants may have applied for and received acceptances from more than one university.

Because of the additional offers, MOE said it expects the cohort participation rate (CPR) to increase slightly this year - by up to two percentage points - from the originally planned 40 per cent.

MOE had earlier said that it had planned to provide 17,000 places to reach the 40 per cent CPR it had promised Singaporeans this year.

The universities held a second admissions exercise in May to cater to Singaporeans whose study or work plans had been disrupted because of the pandemic.

The Straits Times reported last month that each of the six local universities received between 19 and 550 applications during the second admissions exercise.

Some of the applicants interviewed said the Covid-19 outbreak has left them unsure of their overseas plans.

While some said they were switching to local universities, others were planning to defer their studies by three to six months. Several said they prefer an on-campus education and complained that it was unfair of overseas universities to charge the usual high international student fees for online classes.

MOE also said on Monday that Singaporean students who are already midway through their degree studies overseas, but now wish to switch to studying locally can write directly to the autonomous universities. Their applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This includes a review of whether credit transfers can be granted.

The autonomous universities have received a small number of such applications, and are prepared to take in as many of these transfer cases as they can accommodate, including for courses such as medicine, said MOE. This is subject to applicants meeting the admission criteria.

Students who prefer to wait for some months before resuming their studies overseas can also sign up for continuing education and training modular courses offered by the universities.

In an ST interview last week, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said the Government will add more university places to cater to students whose overseas study plans had been disrupted.

"If their studies are disrupted and they meet the admission criteria, then, yes, we will increase the number of places to help them continue their studies locally, even if it means going beyond the 40 per cent cohort participation rate," he had said.

Parent Eugene Tan, 48, whose son is considering switching from an overseas university to a local university, said the government should make more places available as these are "special circumstances".

His son came back midway through his first-year studies in the US, after the Singapore government advised students to return home because of the rise in Covid-19 infections.

"Now with the situation being so bad in the US, I doubt he can go back until first quarter of next year. So, I had advised him to switch to a local university," said the sales director, who added that his own earnings have been badly hit by the pandemic.

His son, who declined to be named, said he still prefers to head overseas as he feels that there are better internship opportunities in the field of IT in the US - and more job openings down the line.

"I am very grateful that the local universities will consider admitting additional students this year. But I am still hoping that things will turn around by September and I can head back to continue with my studies," he said.

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