SINGAPORE - An average of about 1,600 international students received tuition grants for each of the past five years to study at Singapore's autonomous universities (AUs), said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Oct 6).
This accounts for less than 10 per cent of the annual university student intake.
Mr Wong was responding in Parliament to Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who had asked how many international students had been admitted into local universities under the Ministry of Education's (MOE's) Tuition Grant Scheme.
Under the scheme, beneficiaries need to serve a three-year bond in a Singapore entity upon graduation.
Mr David and Associate Professor Jamus Jerome Lim (Sengkang GRC) also asked how the MOE intends to help international students who are unable to find jobs in the current labour market in order to serve their bonds.
Mr Wong acknowledged that recent graduates are finding it difficult to land jobs in this economic climate. MOE's priority is to support locals in finding employment, he said, but it will also give fair treatment to tuition grant holders.
"In particular, MOE works with the universities and other public agencies to facilitate their applications for work pass arrangements here while keeping to the Fair Consideration Framework," he said.
Flexibility is given when assessing the work pass applications of these international students, he added, and they are also given time to stay in Singapore to look for a job.
"Those who have genuine difficulties finding employment here or abroad may reach out to the universities and MOE for assistance, and we will assess their situation and see how best to help them on a case-by-case basis," said Mr Wong.
"We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approach appropriate to the economic situation and outlook."
In addition, Mr Wong said that no Singaporean is displaced from a university place because of an international student.
"Places in the AUs are planned first and foremost for Singaporeans, in line with the cohort participation target of 40 per cent. This year, we set aside more places at the AUs to cater to Singaporean students whose overseas study plans were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.
"The AUs first admit Singaporean students who are able to meet their admission standards. They then raise the bar a few notches and admit a small number of international students, over and above the local students."
He said that having some international students adds to the "diversity of the overall education experience" and cultivates students' global outlook, preparing them for a future workplace where they may have to interact with people from different nationalities.
"We will continue to review and adjust the number of international students on tuition grant in the future, taking into consideration the quality of applicants and other factors," said Mr Wong.