A series of measures announced yesterday will make tertiary education more accessible and affordable for needy students and give an added push to social mobility.
Most students from lower-income households in universities and polytechnics will see a big portion of their tuition fees slashed, with bursary amounts set to go up next year.
This is to ensure that as more Singaporeans from less well-off households make it to the polytechnics and universities, tuition costs do not hinder them from furthering their education or constrain their choice of courses.
Once the higher bursaries kick in, polytechnic students who come from the lowest 20 per cent of household income groups will pay no more than $150 of the $2,900 annual fees - $400 less than what they now pay each year. All in, 33,000 polytechnic students are expected to benefit from the bursary hikes.
At the university level, the most needy students will pay only $2,000 a year, compared with the $4,200 they pay now. The full fee for a general degree is $8,200.
Government bursaries for new and existing medical and dentistry undergraduates will also be increased, with students from families in the bottom 20 per cent income group having to pay only $5,000 a year - compared with the full fees of $28,900 at the National University of Singapore and $34,700 at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Announcing the measures, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "We want to make sure that... we do not deter students from lower-income backgrounds from studying medicine and dentistry."
Number of polytechnic students who are expected to benefit from bursary hikes.
Number of undergraduates, including those doing medicine, likely to benefit from the measures.
Percentage of ITE graduates who now do not progress beyond Nitec qualification. There will be more upgrading opportunities for them.
A total of 21,000 undergraduates, including those doing medicine, are expected to benefit. The government spending on bursaries for undergraduates and diploma students will increase by $44 million in total - from $123 million to $167 million.
Mr Ong also announced increased opportunities for the 30 per cent of Institute of Technical Education graduates who currently do not progress beyond their Nitec qualification. To support them, the Ministry of Education will provide more places in a range of programmes such as ITE's SkillsFuture Work-Study diplomas and full-time Higher Nitec courses. There will also be more places provided in the polytechnics for applicants with work experience.
The plan: All Nitec graduates from ITE will have the chance to attain a higher qualification by 2030.
Sharing the thinking behind the moves, Mr Ong revealed that 15 years ago, only 38 per cent of students from the bottom 30 per cent of households by way of socio-economic status progressed to the polytechnics. Now, 52 per cent from the group make it to the polytechnics.
For the universities, the proportion has gone up from 13 per cent to 21 per cent.
He said universities have an important role to play in social integration and in enabling social mobility.
Education is an upgrading force, he said, with each generation doing better than the previous one.
"It is fundamental to our social mobility," Mr Ong stressed, adding that bursaries had to be increased to help lower-income groups gain from education. "Cost cannot be an impediment for families with hard work and talent and aptitude to upgrade their lives and get a better future for themselves," said Mr Ong.
Grab driver V. Perumal, 54, whose youngest son will study engineering at Nanyang Technological University next year, said he is heartened by the bursary increase.
"Both my wife and I were so happy when our son told us he got into NTU to study engineering, but at the same time we have been having sleepless nights worrying about the fees.
"I have been looking at how we can borrow some money. But now, we are very relieved."
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.