Schools: 14% non-Singaporeans, but universities – 35%?

(This post by Mr Leong Sze Hian first appeared on his blog on 2 October 2017. It is reproduced with permission.

Growing number of foreigners are finding it tougher to find places in local schools for their children; while foreign students take up about 35% enrollments in public universities.

I refer to the article “Parliament: Some 1,800 foreign pupils who applied to enter Primary 1 this year rejected” (Straits Times, Oct 2).

It states that “Some 1,800 international pupils who applied to enter Primary 1 this year (2017) were rejected, Ms Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education said on Monday (Oct 2).

“Our public school system is designed to cater to the needs of Singaporean students,” she said, responding to a question in Parliament from Mr Ong Teng Koon, an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

“We welcome eligible international students to study in our schools. They can help to cultivate a global orientation and intercultural skills in our students, and enrich the overall educational environment in Singaporean schools,” said Ms Low.

“Thus we only offer a limited number of places to international students each year,” she said. “While MOE will continue to make available places in our mainstream schools for international students, we will not be able to meet the demand entirely.”

The Straits Times reported last year (2016) that a growing number of foreigners are finding it tougher to find places in local schools for their children.”

As to “The proportions of international and PR students in local schools have remained fairly constant in recent years, at 5 per cent and 9 per cent respectively” – why is it that (to the best of my knowledge) – the Government has never disclosed the breakdown of Singaporean, PR and foreign students in the public universities’ total enrolment (undergraduate and graduate students)?

With regard to “She said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) values the diversity that these foreign students bring to local schools, but its priority is to serve the educational needs of Singaporeans” – why is it that for decades – our public universities reserved 20 per of the first year undergraduate admissions for foreign students (recently reduced to 16 per cent).

After including permanent residents (PRs) and post-graduate students (the greater majority of which were non-Singaporeans) – the estimated percentage of non-Singaporean students in the public universities’ total enrolment was about 35 per cent.

Are there any countries in the world that has so many foreign students in their public universities – the majority of whom are on tuition grant or scholarships, etc – which has been estimated to cost about $400 million a year?

And now – we are told that university graduates have and will continue to be capped at between 30 to 40 per cent! (Yeoh Lam Keong’s article “Ex-GIC chief economist blasts Minister Ong’s education policy of capping local university graduates as “unimaginative”” (The Independent, May 5)).

What are your thoughts on the above?

Leong Sze Hian



Leong Sze Hian is the Past President of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, an alumnus of Harvard University, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow and an author of 4 books. He is frequently quoted in the media. He has also been invited to speak more than 100 times in 25 countries on 5 continents. He has served as Honorary Consul of Jamaica, Chairman of the Institute of Administrative Management, and founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Brunei and Indonesia. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional qualifications. He blogs at


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