SINGAPORE - The multi-billion-dollar endowment funds of local universities came under the spotlight on Thursday (Aug 22), when Education Minister Ong Ye Kung was asked why these should not be used to fund more bursaries for needy students. Mr Ong said the universities were already doing this.
Pointing out that endowments play an important role in supplementing the Government's financial aid to needy students, he said many of these bursaries come from the donations received by universities. This is evident in the bursaries that carry the name of the donors.
Media reports recently touched on the sizeable amounts in university endowment funds, and some have asked whether universities should still be competing with charities for the "donations pie".
The Straits Times recently reported that Singapore's most successful fund-raiser, the National University of Singapore (NUS), collected $227 million in donations in its financial year that ended in March last year. It had reserves of $9.5 billion and an investment income of $620 million for the year. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) had $3.7 billion in reserves and an investment income of $149 million for the same year. It raised $50 million in donations.
Mr Ong said universities such as NUS and NTU also use the income generated from their endowment funds in many other ways - including setting up joint labs with industry partners, incubators to support student entrepreneurs, partnerships with other universities, funding research and student exchanges.
He also noted that some universities have much larger endowment funds than the $9.5 billion that NUS holds. Harvard University's endowment, the world's largest, grew 10 per cent to US$39.2 billion (S$54.3 billion) in the financial year which ended in June last year. It was followed by Yale University, whose endowment grew 12.3 per cent to US$29.4 billion in the most recent financial year.
An NUS spokesman had said it uses the investment income from its endowment and reserves to finance a variety of operational costs, including scholarships, support for research and to promote entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for NTU said it was essential to raise funds to reduce its reliance on public funding. He added that "multiple sources of funding are necessary to deliver quality education and research and build a culture of innovation and community engagement that translates into jobs and real benefits for society".
The universities said their funds are invested prudently in order to preserve capital and obtain reasonable returns to allow them to achieve their various missions, including providing more opportunities for their students and advancing research.