I asked a couple of supplementary questions, and the Minister of State for Education responded, but gave the wrong figures. If I remember correctly, he paused to check his papers before giving the number.
I had a fair bit of sympathy for the MOS, actually. The figure did seem suspiciously low. But it was an honest mistake. I think those who proclaimed some sort of attempted fraud on the nation, who attributed the correction to the derisive dismissals online, are being thoroughly unfair. They are not giving the Government enough credit, while giving themselves too much. I think there was some slight delay before the clarification was issued, but that's not surprising since figures need to be checked.
It was a mistake and an embarrassing one, but hardly important in the bigger scheme of things. And who doesn't make mistake?
ADMISSION INTO LOCAL UNIVERSITIES
Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked the Minister for Education in light of local students not being able to gain admission to the three local universities despite the increase in the number of places (a) whether he will provide an update on the recent admission exercise for local universities; and (b) what measures are taken by his Ministry to ensure that local A-level and polytechnic students have sufficient places for accredited tertiary education in Singapore.
Mr Zainudin Nordin asked the Minister for Education (a) whether our local universities are producing enough graduates to meet the needs of our industries; (b) what is the average growth in the number of local university places in the last ten years; (c) whether local universities are able to cope with the increase in intake; and (d) whether the local universities' vision to have more international students is being achieved at the expense of local students.
The Minister of State for Education (Mr Gan Kim Yong) (for the Minister for Education): Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to take both Questions No. 3 and 4 together?
Mr Speaker: Yes.
Mr Gan Kim Yong: Sir, we have increased the number of university places over the years. The number of places at NUS, NTU and SMU together has increased by an average of about 5% each year over the past 10 years. The proportion of each cohort of local students entering the three universities will increase to about 23.5% this year, compared to 20.8% in 2000 and 15% in 1990.
We are progressively moving towards the current target of providing subsidised university education for 25% of each cohort of local students.
I would like to assure the House also that the local universities' vision to have more international students is not being achieved at the expense of local students. University places for foreign students are over and above those that are set aside for local students.
Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Sir, I have two supplementary questions. The first question is I would like to ask the MOS to clarify what he meant when he said that places for foreign students are over and above the places for local students. Does this mean that places are offered to foreign students only after all eligible local students have been offered and have accepted their places? My second question is the MOS has mentioned that there are 14,000-odd places for year of admission 2007. But of these 14,000-plus places, how many places will be going to foreign students?
Mr Gan Kim Yong: Mr Speaker, let me just give the House some benchmark numbers so that we can have a feel. During this year's admission exercise, a total of 28,000 local students applied to local universities. Out of that, 14,000 (49%) were offered places. Similarly, about 23,000 foreign students applied to the universities for the same admission year and only 987 were given places, that is, 4.3%. So on that basis, we want to demonstrate that the universities do give priority to our local students. And for our students who can qualify, based on the requirements of each discipline or faculty, they would have been given admission. Beyond that, the universities would want to ensure that there are also sufficient foreign students to provide diversity and it is part of the learning experience that we want our students to go through as well during their university education here.