Private school closures set for record

17 have already shut and five more are likely to exit amid shake-up in sector

M2 Academy, which opened with a bang in Orchard Road just two years ago, was among the 17 private schools that closed this year.
M2 Academy, which opened with a bang in Orchard Road just two years ago, was among the 17 private schools that closed this year. ST FILE PHOTO

A record number of private schools here are expected to shut down this year, as foreign student numbers in these schools continue to decline amid a shake-up of the private education industry.

In just the first eight months of this year, 17 of these schools have already closed, including M2 Academy, which opened with a bang in Orchard Road just two years ago.

The Council for Private Education (CPE), which regulates the industry, said another five private schools have indicated that they may exit the industry in the next few months, leading to a possible record 22 closures for this year.

Last year, 17 schools were shut down, including two that did so due to regulatory breaches.

Another indication of the bloodletting: the total number of registered private schools has dropped to below 300 for the first time, compared with 332 in 2012.

  • 22

  • Possible number of private school closures this year

  • 17

  • Number of private schools that shut last year

Mr Remy Choo, CPE director (assessment, registration, monitoring and investigation), said the schools that closed voluntarily indicated reasons including "changing business conditions, increased competition and shifting market demands".

He said some have decided to focus on shorter skills-based modular courses, in line with the national SkillsFuture movement which helps working adults upgrade their skills and stay relevant in their careers.

As the schools are not offering degree, diploma or full-time courses at the post-secondary level, they do not need to be registered with the CPE.

In the event of a closure, CPE works closely with the school to ensure students' interests are protected. The school is required to finish teaching a course or ensure that its students can transfer to other schools with the same programme.

The student enrolment figures at private schools will be available only later this month when CPE releases its annual report, but figures reported last year - 77,000 locals and 29,000 foreigners - already showed a drop in numbers.

Media reports four years ago said there were about 100,000 locals and about 35,000 foreigners enrolled in privately run schools.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, which issues student visas, said as at July this year just over 26,000 foreign students were enrolled in the private schools, indicating a further drop.

The number of local students is also expected to fall further as the Government has pledged to increase the yearly intake for the six universities to 16,000 by 2020, up from 15,500 this year.

Mr Lee Kwok Cheong, chief executive of Singapore's biggest private school, SIM Global Education, expects the shake-up to continue.

The school, for the first time, saw a dip in local student numbers two years ago. In June this year, it had a total enrolment of 20,000 students, with 16,400 locals and 3,600 foreign students. Three years ago, it hit a high of 23,000 students, with 20,000 locals.

Singapore might also have become less of a draw for foreign students, with fewer work opportunities for foreigners upon graduation, because of the tightening of work visas, noted Mr Lee, who is also president of the Singapore Association for Private Education.

Mr Andrew Chua, head of the East Asia Institute of Management in Balestier, said private school operators have to expand overseas and align themselves with the SkillsFuture movement to offer more part- time courses for working adults.

He and Mr Lee expect more schools to shut down over the next few years. But Mr Lee added: "I believe that the quality schools which provide relevant courses will survive the shakedown. In the long run, we will have a stronger, more robust, private education sector."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'Private school closures set for record'. Subscribe