a community of singaporeans

University places – numbers don’t add up

Posted by theonlinecitizen on July 18, 2007

By Leong Sze Hian

This Channelnewsasia report titled “Enough places in local universities for Singaporeans : MOE”, quotes Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister of State for Education as saying:

“The universities do give priority to local students. And for our students who can qualify based on the requirement of each discipline and each faculty would have been given admission. Beyond that, the universities would want to ensure there are also sufficient foreign students to provide diversity.”

“Mr Gan said 28,000 Singapore students applied to the universities this year and half of them were offered places. In contrast, 23,000 foreign students applied and only 987 or 4.3 percent were given places”.

In this connection, I refer to the articles “More varsity places needed, says Tony Tan” (ST, Jun 19) and “Skewed demand led to squeeze on varsity places: Shortage only for popular courses, and isn’t due to Dragon Year effect” (ST, Jun 16), and the Ministry of Education’s reply “S’poreans have priority in university admission” (ST, Jun 16) to 3 letters in ST forum.

Although an additional 1,270 or 10% more places were provided this year, was the foreign intake still 20%? If so, the 10% increase was not just for Singaporeans, but for foreigners too.

The 20% foreigner cap is for the first year intake only. According to a report in the Business Times of 26 May,

“international students now make up about 20% of NTU’s undergraduate population and about 33% of its graduate population…the National University of Singapore (NUS) said about 20% of its 23,900 undergraduates and about 50% of its 9,100 postgraduate students are from overseas…the number of permanent residencies (PRs) awarded last year rose to 57,300 – a 9.6% increase from 2005 and a 55.3% increase from 2004”.


This means that about 28% of the total student population in NUS are foreigners. If we factor in PRs, the number of students in NUS who are Singaporeans may be around 60%.

Since only 4.3% of foreigners were given places compared to 50% for Singapore students this year, how do we explain the above NUS statement that “about 20% of its 23,900 undergraduates and about 50% of its 9,100 postgraduate students are from overseas”?

For how many years has this “20% foreigners” policy been in practice?

What is the actual admission intake figures for Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners, which may be different from “places offered”?

Does “places offered” to foreign students, include those who are on scholarships?

What is the impact of our foreign students policy on Singaporeans’ ability to secure places in popular university courses?

How many Singaporeans have no choice but to go overseas or enrol in local or foreign tertiary institutions in Singapore?

I would like to suggest that the intake of foreigners should be kept at 20% per course, so that more vacancies in less popular courses may be offered as alternatives to Singaporeans.

For more of Sze Hian’s writings, please visit his website here.



9 Responses to “University places – numbers don’t add up”

  1. Urban Rant said

    What is the criteria of offering places to students? Based purely on grades?

    Are local students given an unfair advantage because more places are set aside for them?

    Or are foreigners favoured to support a government policy and also that they pay higher fees?

  2. at82 said

    Maybe these other foreign students are scholarship holders?

    If it is so, then the figures are technically correct given that these scholarships holders NEED NOT apply to local unis to get their place.

  3. shoestring said

    I think using statistics to justify or prove that priority is given to Singaporeans doesn’t hold water at all. Giving priority has nothing to do with how many or the percentage of applicants are admitted. Giving priority to a certain group of people means showing preferential treatment eg. a Singaporean is admitted even though his qualifications are inferior to that of a foreigner competing for the same place.

    To be convincing, the authorities will have to be transparent about admission criteria applied to foreigners vs Singaporeans and show that “preferential treatment” has been given to Singaporeans either through more relaxed criteria, or or some other means that give Singaporeans an advantage in the admission process.

    Throwing figures around is only wayang.

  4. Jason said

    If the combined first year intakes of the 3 universities is 15,000 (e.g. 6,000 each for NUS and NTU + 3,000 for SMU), that would mean the foreign intake of 987 is at best less than 7%. If the intake is 12,000, the foreign intake is at best slightly more than 8%.

    987 sounds incredibly low.

  5. […] Tan and Sze Hian have both analysed the proportion of foreigners in the local universities and from their posts it […]

  6. Jason said

    Ah, clarification by MOE – 4,218 is the actual number.

    Add that to est. 14,000 local students, and the proportion of foreigners rises to 23%. Of course, acceptances are not the same as offers, so it is possible that the final tally will be close to the 20% target.

  7. jon said

    ChannelNewsAsia (July 19th, by Pearl Forss) lied when they said “Top universities in the world, such as MIT, have more than 40 percent foreign students”. (Recall that their context was made to support the govt’s stance on why our universities reserved 20% of the undergraduate seats for foreigners?)

    MIT website stated clearly that “International citizens” comprises only 8% of the undergraduate student profile!!

  8. quitacet said

    >>MIT website stated clearly that “International citizens” comprises only 8% of the undergraduate student profile!!>>

    40% is for total student population inc. graduate students. You should also adjust the numbers upward for new immigrants ie first-generation or zero-generation americans.

  9. Carol Pace said

    bibliopegy pyrolusite fluorogenic brachypodous dandruffy chanterelle legitim erosion
    LaFayette High School

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