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BUDGET 2017

Funds for post-secondary bursaries to go up to S$150m a year

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Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung announced that there will now be four bursary tiers across all PSEIs.

Singapore

THE government will spend S$150 million a year - 50 per cent more than before - to enhance financial support for needy students in post-secondary education institutions (PSEIs).

Two existing bursaries, those awarded by the Community Development Councils/Citizens' Consultative Committees and the Ministry of Education (MOE), will be enhanced from this year.

Their income-eligibility caps will be raised so more students will qualify for them.

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Gross monthly household income (GHI) will be introduced as an income-assessment criterion in addition to per capita income (PCI); students need to meet either of these to qualify.

There are now three bursary tiers for undergraduate and diploma students: for families with monthly household per capita income of S$950 and below; from S$951 to S$1,400; and from S$1,401 to S$1,900. Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students from families with S$570 in per capita income or less are eligible for additional assistance.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung announced that there will now be four bursary tiers across all PSEIs.

"This will allow us to be even more targeted in helping students from lower to middle-income households," he said during the debate on his ministry's spending plans for the coming financial year.

With these changes in place, families with a GHI of S$9,000 and below or a gross monthly household PCI of S$2,250 and below (up from the current PCI of S$1,900 and below) will be eligible for government bursaries.

The bursary payouts will go up by between S$50 and S$400 a year across the different levels, with larger increases going to lower-income students. The amount will rise by up to S$400 more a year for undergraduates, up to S$350 more for diploma students and up to S$200 for those in ITE. This will take the maximum annual bursary amount to S$4,000 a year for undergraduates, S$2,350 for diploma students and S$1,400 for ITE students.

Mr Ong noted that about 12,000 more Singaporean students are expected to tap into these schemes, taking the total to 71,000 students a year.

Earlier, he dwelled on the importance of funding life-long learning for Singaporeans and making it affordable and accessible to them.

Explaining the different avenues of support available, he said that in supply-side funding, the government funds the training provider so that course fees can be a fraction of their actual cost; in demand-side funding, the funding goes directly to the individual user. Examples are bursaries, SkillsFuture study awards and the SkillsFuture Credit.

"What's good about demand-side funding is that it's very visible, and people do get excited. . . The downside is that if it's done across the board, like with SkillsFuture Credit, it can be expensive. It's why we limit it to S$500 per Singaporean," he said. "Another downside is we have little control over how people will spend the grant on the ground. What they spend on may not be entirely aligned with our growth strategies."

This is why the government leans more towards supply-side funding, which Mr Ong described as "more prudent and a stronger lever" in public policy-making.

The government now spends around S$400 million a year on supply-side funding. Last year, it put S$37 million into funding SkillsFuture Credit.

He said: "This approach has worked well for us. Through our efforts to promote lifelong-learning and SkillsFuture over the years, our training participation rate has jumped from 32 per cent to 42 per cent over the last 10 years, with about half the increase realised over the last three years."

He added that annual training headcounts have increased by more than 70 per cent to 380,000 over the last five years.

Excluding areas such as safety, security and food & beverage, the top nine areas account for more than half the training places supported by SkillsFuture Singapore, a statutory board under the MOE.

In descending order, they are ICT, service excellence, education and training, human-resource management, personal development, leadership and people management, business management, productivity and innovation, and healthcare.

"We did not plan for these numbers, but allowed the training industry and market to respond, and we provide support where we think the quality of training is good and there is alignment to our growth strategies," said Mr Ong.

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