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Senior university leaders in Singapore take pay cut

[SINGAPORE] Senior management at Singapore's six autonomous universities (AUs) have recently taken a pay cut in response to the adverse impact Covid-19 has had on the economy.

The institutions have also stepped up financial relief in the past few months by encouraging donations and setting up funds for students affected by the crisis.

Answering queries from The Straits Times, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Education (MOE) said: "The AUs decided to adjust downwards the pay for their senior staff holding leadership positions, in consultation with MOE."

The ministry and universities did not give any details about the extent of pay reduction, if it was a one-off exercise, and when it took place, saying that these are confidential.

The spokesperson said: "As publicly-funded national institutions, the AUs play an important national role in educating Singaporeans. "The AUs stand together in solidarity with the rest of the nation during this difficult period."

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The move by the AUs follows the National Wages Council's recommendation that employers adversely impacted by Covid-19 can consider reducing wages - and have their management lead by example - to cut costs and save jobs.

In the same vein, the Public Service has been exercising wage restraint, said the MOE spokesperson.

The Public Service Division had announced in June that public officers in superscale grades will take a one-time 0.5-month or one-month pay cut in accordance with their seniority.

The universities have also ensured that students get the financial support they need in this recession.

The National University of Singapore's (NUS') Students Solidarity Fund has raised about S$1.6 million, and the university has disbursed grants ranging from S$200 to S$700 to some 3,100 students.

Similarly, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has distributed more than S$1.6 million to over 1,100 students. They received sums ranging from S$500 to S$3,000, depending on their individual needs.

A spokesman said that NTU had also launched a fund seeded by a personal gift of S$100,000 from its president Subra Suresh and his wife Mary. The NTU Priorities Fund has since grown to S$1.7 million in size, thanks to the generosity of more than 1,600 other donors, she said.

A spokesman for the Singapore Management University (SMU) said the institution had set up an SMU Resilience Fund in May to help students facing financial hardship because of Covid-19.

The fund, which started with S$2.5 million, has since grown by another S$1.4 million, which includes contributions from faculty and staff.

The spokesman added that the university management team has also pledged to contribute a proportion of their annual compensation to support students in need.

Nearly 200 SMU students have received financial support so far and it is expected that close to 600 more students will receive support over the next month.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design has set up an emergency fund, which has raised about S$260,000 for students affected by the pandemic. This is on top of existing government bursaries.

A spokesman said about S$149,000 has been disbursed to 54 students so far, who received sums ranging from S$1,500 to S$15,000, with the higher quantum going towards covering tuition fees in the current academic year.

NTU bioengineering undergraduate Wong Siaw Wen, 23, received S$1,500 from its Priorities Fund earlier this year, after her father was forced to stop work as a subcontractor in the construction sector in March. He resumed work in August.

Ms Wong, a Malaysian whose mother is a housewife, said her parents had to borrow money from relatives for their living expenses. "The help from NTU reduced the burden on my family to support me and I also have my own savings," she said.

NUS third-year communications and new media student Jillian Chang, 21, received a S$700 grant from the NUS Students Solidarity Fund, on top of other bursaries.

Her mother had quit teaching last year due to poor health and is currently not working full-time, while her father, who works in the engineering sector, had a pay cut. "Covid-19 has made us a bit more cautious about spending. We eat out less and try to plan ahead. I try not to be worried," said Ms Chang.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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