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When he was Minister of State for Education, Dr Ng Eng Hen said that “Our universities must become engines of growth for our economy.”
In 2012, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang reinforced this point saying that our education system is “to build industry-relevant manpower capabilities for the economy.”
We had even wanted to become the ‘Boston of the East’, with our universities modeled on Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But Education Minister Ong Ye Kung now says that the number of graduates will be capped at 30 to 40 percent of the student population because the government had, in the past. placed an over-emphasis on academic qualifications in education.
This chop-and-change approach to education has damaged the country’s ability to plan for the longer term. For example, the PAP had at one time focused on Information Technology and later switched to preparing students for life sciences. Its current emphasis is on “technology adoption” – whatever that means.
Such short-sightedness contradicts PM Lee Hsien Loong’s boast of the PAP’s “far-sighted leadership who can anticipate problems”. If the leadership is. indeed, far-sighted, how did we place emphasis on our universities being growth engines for our economy and become the Boston of the East only to realise now that we have over-emphasised academic qualifications?
Serving local or foreign students?
And while the PAP caps the number of Singaporean graduates, it subsidises foreign students under the Global Schoolhouse project.
A majority of international students studying here are given Tuition Grants (totaling more than $200 million per year) as well as scholarships (some of which are not open to Singaporean students). It is reported that foreign students make up between 18 and 20 percent of the total undergraduate intake in Singapore.
In addition, foreign students receiving the grants have to serve a bond upon graduation (which many, by the way, don’t fulfill). They further compete with local graduates for jobs, many of whom are as it is having a hard time finding employment.
The discrimination is made even more unpalatable when one considers Singaporean parents spending an average of $21,000 a year on their child’s university education. This is more than twice the global average, with over half of the households going into debt because of it. These parents even prioritise funding their children’s education over paying their bills or saving for retirement.
And the PAP is limiting the number of local graduates while funding foreign ones? Mr Ong Ye Kung must explain whom exactly his latest policy is serving.
Read SDP’s alternative education policy: Educating For Creativity And Equality: An Agenda For Transformation.