Friday, July 20, 2007

How many foreign students enrolled in MIT?

When questions about foreign students in local universities are raised, Education Ministry officials and journalists from the nation building press like to quote MIT. The latest attempt was made by Pearl Forss:

Top universities in the world, such as MIT, have more than 40 percent foreign students

I don't know where she got her numbers from, but according to wikipedia, only 9.2% of the undergraduate student population are foreigners. The figure rises to 39.3% for graduate studies. It is clearly UNDER 40% no matter how you count. She is talking about Massachusetts Institute of Technology right, not some other MIT?

If you think wikipedia is unreliable, go do your own calculation using statistics straight from MIT:

1. Go to this one for the size of the undergraduate and graduate population: MIT Facts 2007: Enrollments 2006-2007

2. This one for the foreign students: MIT Facts 2007: International Students and Scholars

And MIT has one of the highest proportion of foreign students of all US universities, and is clearly the highest among the top US universities. Furthermore, the biggest group of these international students are Canadians, for a university just a few hours drive from the Canadian border.

Instead of justifying local universities having 20% foreigners at undergraduate level and 50% at graduate level, the MIT experience shows that we are way ahead of international norms.

Foreign undergrads: Is 20% a target or a cap?

When asked about the numbers of foreigners in local universities, officials from the Education Ministry like to point out that the number of foreign undergrads are capped at 20% of the total student population. But is it really a cap?

In 1998, then Minister of Education Teo Chee Hean delivered a speech at the Fulbright Association entitled "SINGAPORE AS A HUB FOR HIGHER EDUCATION". In the speech, the Minister makes it clear that it was the Ministry that pushed the universities to reach the 20% TARGET. Left to their own devices, the proportion of foreigners would languish at 10%. And how do the universities meet this quota given to them? Well, at the taxpayer's expense, they have to send teams all over Chinese and Indian cities, scouring the high schools for suitable candidates. What if their command of English is not up to scratch? Nevermind, backdoor admissions, no need to attempt the GP. What if they cannot afford? No problem, all expenses from air ticket to lodging to lifestyle expenses will be covered by the Singaporean taxpayer. Just fly to Singapore so they can fill their quota. What they do afterwards is none of the universities' business. Which is why they do not stay. About 40% of all foreign undergrad scholarship holders leave Singapore without working for a single day. Which is how Singapore is building up a reputation in China as a nation of foolish suckers with too much money.

Now that the numbers are met and they no longer need to increase the number of foreign students dramatically, the officials now turn around and say it is a cap. A cap they don't take too seriously, it seems, at least for this year's admissions.

A quote from the speech:

  1. NUS, NTU and their predecessor institutions have been receiving a natural inflow of foreign students from the region. However, with the establishment of more universities throughout the region and the urgent need to expand higher education opportunities in Singapore, the attraction of foreign talent was not seen as top priority for NUS and NTU. The inflow of foreign students stagnated at around 10% of the undergraduate intake.
  2. But a world-class university cannot be built upon the natural talents and abilities of a small country with only 3 million people. Top universities go in search of the best talent in the world, especially at the postgraduate level. For example, in MIT, up to one-third of the postgraduate students in the engineering school are international students.
  3. NUS and NTU have to do likewise. They have set a target of filling 20% of their undergraduate places with foreigners. Fortunately for us, NUS and NTU can do this while expanding intake so that no qualified locals will be displaced. At the same time, to make it more attractive for foreign students to study in Singapore, tuition fees have been reduced. In 1996, the fees for foreign students were 1.5 to 2 times those for Singaporeans. From this year, foreign students pay only 10% more than locals.
  4. This target of 20% gives a push to the two universities to get out of Singapore and find the best foreign students they can. This is a useful discipline, as a constant reminder to the universities that Singapore thrives on being open to the rest of the world.
  5. The presence of foreign students adds some "fizz" to the student body in Singapore universities. The students draw upon different experiences and look at problems from different perspectives. There is no better way to promote critical and creative thinking among our young than to be confronted with different view-points and ideas.
  6. I am pleased to note that NUS and NTU have marketed themselves aggressively in the past years and are on track to reach their target of 20% foreign intake. For the academic year 1998/99, preliminary figures (up to 20 Jul 98) indicate that NUS and NTU have recruited more than 1,500 foreign students which make up 16.5% of their undergraduate intake. 70% of these foreign students are taking up courses in Engineering, Computers and Science. It is particularly important for Singapore to build up centres of excellence in these areas in order to catalyse the growth of high technology industries and ensure an adequate supply of qualified persons.

MOE clarifies foreign undergrad admission numbers: numbers still seem wrong

When MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong reported in parliament that only 987 foreign students got into local universities this year, I knew immediately it had to be some mistake or some massive policy U-turn, but I did not comment on it because I did not have anything useful to add to what Lucky Tan, Ned Stark and Leong Sze Hian had eloquently written, and I was hoping that with a new PM, MOE may have actually reduce the number of foreign students to cater for Singaporeans.

But alas, MOE uncharacteristically decided it was necessary to do some OT and work pass 5pm to issue a press release as late as 9pm to clarify that the numbers were wrong. (This is after all, a country that has a blood bank that does not even want to talk to people who was misled into thinking a loved one will bleed to death if they fail to make good the blood bank's losses, 5 minutes before the start of official working hours)

And guess what, the numbers are still wrong. MOE now claims the actually number of foreigners admitted is 4,218. The MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong had earlier claimed that there was a total of 14,685 places in the three universities. They also claim there is 20% "cap" for foreigners, and not admitting every single one of the 19,000 full-fee paying foreigners, irregardless of their academic ability, is "costing" the nation $480 million dollars in missed revenues.

Guess what:

4218 / 14685 = 28.7%

Surely there is yet another mistake that needs to be clarified.
Let's say the 14,685 were all for locals only (locals is yet another government attempt to fudge the PR numbers with the citizens)

4218 / (14685+4218) = 22.3%

So, either the 20% cap is really a flexible round down, or there are many more caveats that a simple peasant like me can never comprehend.

This is not a foreign student problem any more. I do not know if the MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong was trying to play with semantics or received faulty information / typo error etc. I hope it is the former, because for someone in his position, he should have instantly recognised that 987 is a ridiculous number. If he does not even have a good gut feel for the numbers, sigh...

"Close to 20% of foreign students who apply for local universities get in
By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 19 July 2007 2149 hrs

SINGAPORE: Close to 20 percent of foreign students who applied to local universities were accepted this year.

The Ministry of Education had said in Parliament on Tuesday that the figure was only 4.3 percent, and only 987 foreign students got into local universities this year.

In fact, out of the 23,000 foreign students who applied for local universities, the actual number admitted was 4,218.

The Ministry explained that the 987 figure only referred to foreign students who had obtained GCE 'A' level or polytechnic qualifications in Singapore.

It has capped the number of government-subsidised foreign students in Singapore at 20 percent because it does not want schools to expand too quickly.

However, this cap makes it difficult for universities to take in more full fee-paying foreign students.

Full fees for foreign students enrolled in non-lab courses in local universities are about S$26,000 a year.

This year, nearly 19,000 foreign students applied for local universities and did not get in, which translates to over S$480 million in lost revenue annually."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dan Dennett on dangerous memes, on

Here's one of those talks that can change your view of the world forever. Starting with the deceptively simple story of an ant, Dan Dennett unleashes a dazzling sequence of ideas, making a powerful case for the existence of "memes" -- a term coined by Richard Dawkins for mental concepts that are literally alive and capable of spreading from brain to brain.

Everything we know about AIDS in Africa is wrong: Emily Oster on

Emily Oster, a University of Chicago economist, looks at the stats on AIDS in Africa -- and comes up with a stunning conclusion: Everything we know about AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is wrong. We look for root causes such as poverty and poor health care -- but we also need to factor in, say, the price of coffee, and the routes of long-haul truckers. In short, she says, there is a lot we don't know; and our assumptions about what we do know may keep us from finding the best way to stop the disease. (Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 15:45.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blade Runner: Final Cut in theatres this fall!

Based on a novel written by Phillip K Dick, directed by Ridley Scott, this third theatrical release of the cult classic features new scenes and new special effects.

via The Big Picture

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Using the 1992 presidential election as his springboard, documentary filmmaker Brian Springer captures the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of politicians and newscasters in the early 1990s. Pat Robertson banters about "homos," Al Gore learns how to avoid abortion questions, George Bush talks to Larry King about halcyon -- all presuming they're off camera. Composed of 100% unauthorized satellite footage, Spin is a surreal expose of media-constructed reality.

Thursday, July 05, 2007