Sandra Davie – Straits Times Indonesia
The panel looking into providing more degree opportunities for Singaporeans will study whether the Government should provide loans and subsidies to those taking the private school route.
Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, who heads the 15-member committee, said that if the idea takes off, schools will be subject to rigorous academic quality checks.
Speaking on Wednesday at the end of a two-day trip to study the Hong Kong university system, Wong said he and his panel members had looked at how the government there has taken advantage of the private education sector to offer more degree pathways to its citizens.
He noted that the Hong Kong government currently offers places for only 18 percent of a given age group through its eight publicly funded institutions, and is in the process of ramping it up to 24 percent in another three years.
This is still below the 30 percent university cohort participation rate that Singapore will reach in that same year.
But to meet young Hong Kongers’ rising aspirations for a degree, it has in place a loans and grants scheme for students who enroll in the private institutions, some of which are set up by the publicly funded universities.
Two leading private institutions are HKU Space, set up by the highly ranked Hong Kong University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s College of Professional and Continuing Education. Students can apply for the subsidies and government-backed loans, including interest-free ones. Needy students can take a means test to qualify for a higher level of subsidy. But the institutions they are enrolled in must have academic accreditation from the Hong Kong government.
Wong, who made the visit with three committee members and several Education Ministry officials, noted that it was an interesting idea to look at for Singapore, as a significant number of polytechnic graduates and A-level holders are taking the private school route.
The Straits Times has reported that about 100,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents were enrolled in private schools in Singapore, of which 40,000 were pursuing degrees. The rest were taking up diplomas which would allow them to progress to degree programs.
At the moment, students in the publicly-funded universities can take out interest-free loans to pay for their tuition fees. They start paying interest once they graduate. Private school students only have access to bank loans that charge on average 5 percent interest.
Wong stressed that if the panel decided to go ahead with the proposal, then, as in Hong Kong, private schools must subject themselves to a strict accreditation process which would go beyond the checks currently carried out by the Council for Private Education (CPE).
These existing checks concentrate on the business processes. As far as academic quality goes, the CPE only checks to ensure foreign university degrees are accredited in the home country and lecturers have the minimum qualifications.
Wong also noted that only 18 private institutions out of several hundred in Hong Kong had passed the check to qualify for the loans and grant scheme.
He said the panel will study the private education sector to see if its programs are relevant to Singapore’s economic growth. At present, private school courses are market-driven, but if the Government wants to make use of the sector, it should look at whether there is a need for a more structured approach, he said.
Private school officials and students were encouraged by the news of the panel looking at the private education sector.
Lee Kwok Cheong, who heads the global education arm of the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), welcomed an accreditation process that will focus on academic quality. “That’s what matters for students,” he said.
R. Theyvendran, who heads the Management Development Institute of Singapore, pointed to the sterling results of its Singapore students to make the case for support from the Government. “Singapore students are very motivated and hard-working and many go on to do well. They deserve the support,” he said.
SIM business student Bernice Teo, 20, said: “If I can get an interest-free loan or, better still, a subsidy from the Government, I can work less and spend more time on my studies.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.