Friday, July 20, 2007

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."


  1. Hi Jimmy,

    Excellent post!

    Maybe the number of foreign students admitted is not quite the same as the number of foreign students enrolled. The 20 percent cap on foreign students is for enrollment, not admission. So, the numbers are probably not wrong if carefully interpreted.

    Also, based on MOE's 2006 Education Statistics Digest (, pg 41), 14685 places is probably the total enrollment (local+foreign) in our local 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.

    That's just silly and makes no sense at all. The number of full-fee paying students in our local universities is miniscule. From, only 5 percent of foreign students in polytechnics and universities pay full fees. The rest are on scholarships and/or pay subsidized fees. It is very highly dubious that the 19,000 foreign students they had to turn away were willing to pay full fees. It's just crazy - UNSW could not even get 100 full fee-paying foreign students in its first intake. What makes our local universities believe it has 19,000 such foreign students?

  2. When is the Government going tell Singaporeans the Truth nothing but the Truth?

    May be when the despot has passed away.

  3. They always like to count the $$ before they earned it. What happened to the projections before the WHO meeting here? And as you say, what happened to the projections for UNSW? They never materialised? This is indeed silly.

    At this rate we are never going to get the truth.

  4. Thank you for your comments, Fox, anonymous and anonymous.


    Perry Lim's latest letter to the ST Forum today indicates that "For local students, places were offered to 14,781 or 51 per cent of those who applied." Which seems to suggest that the total number of local + foreign students admitted should be 14,781+4,218. If you do the maths, the proportion of foreign students is still over 20%, despite Perry Lim reiterating the 20% "cap" in the same letter. Which also means that the numbers provided by MOE's 2006 Education Statistics Digest either never included the foreign students, or they very nearly doubled the intake this year.

    Now I suppose there are some other factors at work here, like admissions for the ORDing NSFs in the middle of the academic year, multiple offers, rejections, non-graduating students etc etc. But in the worst case scenario, if all 4,218 foreign students accept the offer, we will need 4,218 x 4 = 16,872 locals (citizens + PR) - we are still missing 2,000 local students. Or that the cap was not really a cap at all.

    What we have here, is worse than failure. If the MOS for Education Gan Kim Yong was trying to fudge numbers, he shouldn't be corrected the very next night. If he wasn't trying to fudge numbers, and he has no idea whether he has under 1,000 or over 4,000 foreign students per year, well, that shows that he is pretty out of touch, with his full-time job.

    I don't hope for freedom or democracy any more. I just hope that if our million dollar ministers want to paint a beautiful facade, please try a little harder to be a little consistent.

  5. I am really disappointed with MOE. In end May/ early June , it was mentioned in the papers that 35,000 plus students applied for the local U. And around 14,000 plus students got accepted. Now the numbers have changed to 28,000 students applied. But the numbers are still not accurate. What is the MOE up to... shouldnt it cater for the locals first before giving the seats to foreigners. Everyone who got a full A level certificate should be given a chance to study in a U. Please also plan ahead and come up with a forth Uni asap to cater for the growing number of local students who qualify for the U

  6. concerned parent,

    I do not think there is a need to place Singaporeans at a higher priority. If there is one thing about Singaporeans I have total faith in, it is our ability to do well in standardized exams. But as we can see from the published numbers, over 3000 places in the universities are reserved for foreigners, admitted via the backdoor, protected from competition from Singaporeans who take the "A" levels.