the title was changed to reflect the contents of the post more accurately. | followup: here
Thanks (or no thanks) to this
at Mr Wang's (see the comments), I found myself pouring over what little is provided by way of statistics on the Singapore Education Digest
; scroll down) There are no specific statistics for international students in Singapore. The question is whether proxies can be arrived at. Here, a few items stand out.
(a) From 2000-2004, the "Gross Enrollment Ratio" for the Tertiary age (16-20) has been consistently 45-47% (very slow increase). [NOTE: "Gross enrollment ratio for a given level of education is derived by dividing the total resident
enrollment for a particular level of education, regardless of age, by the resident population of the age group which according to national regulations, should be enrolled at that level."]
(b) The full time enrollment at the pre-U level (both JCs and Institutes) is 24,800-24,600 (slow decrease
(c) On the other hand, The full time enrollment in the polys in the same period increased from 52,000 to 56,000; and more importantly, the same for the universities increased from 36,000 to 41,000+
(and quite possibly still growing at the same rate!).
What the figures suggests to me is that the massive expansion of NUS/NTU plus establising of SMU (in 2000) over the past few years is basically an expansion of the international student component
--which would collaborate subjective or anecdotal impressions. (Anyone has any better grasp of the numbers?) But this also means that--objectively speaking, assuming that I've taken the numbers right--approximately the same (or a very slowly increasing) proportion of Singaporeans per education cohort has been entering the local universities over the past few years.
(One problem is that "Gross Enrollment Ratio" does not distinguish between university and poly enrollment. But the fact remains that full time enrollment at the pre-U level has been fairly steady, while university enrollment has massively expanded. So let's say that the figures are at least compatible with and suggestive of the impression that roughly the same proportion of Singaporeans per education cohort has been entering the local universities from 2000-2004.)
Here's the more controversial part: If my take on the numbers is correct, it seems that the typical Singaporean student (say, in 2004) stands more or less the same (or a very slighly improved) chance as his or her predecessors (within the time frame) at enrolling in one of the local universities--that is, in the specific sense that roughly the same proportion in each cohort makes it.
What then is the basis of the oft heard claim (see the comments here
) that it has become harder for the local to get into the local universities; and specifically, because
of the increased emphasis on recruiting international students?
One thing is for sure, because of the changes in the system at the secondary and pre-U level in the same period of time, the local student now has to do more--e.g., project work--then his or her predecessor. And anecdotally at least, it is more pressurizing now than, say, ten years ago. Secondly, there is also the factor of increasing social expectations. Neither of my parents entered university; but all three of their children are graduates. The gaozhong
diploma was already quite something in their time; the same cannot be said today. Conversely, more people now expect to enter university. Yet all this is compatible with the objective possibility that from 2000 to 2004, the typical Singaporean student at the pre-U level stands more or less the same chance at entering one of the local university.
But this also means that the claim that it has become harder for the local is at best only tangentially
related to the issue of an increasing number of interational students in the local universities. For instance, it is just not obvious that he or she is fighting with more people for either fewer or the same number of places--in fact, there are more places in general. And abstracting from the international students, roughly the same number of locals are fighting for roughly the same number of places. That seems to be the impression
given by the numbers.Note
: this does not mean, of course, that there aren't other serious issues that can't be raised with regards to the increasing number of international students--whether it is such a good thing to have so many of them, whether they should be given the same level of tuition grant, whether Singaporeans have been discriminated against when applying for a place in the residential halls, whether the international students are sufficiently competent in English, whether having such a large international student body has any connection whatsoever with improving education experience, or university reputation, or rankings--all of which are good questions that can and should be debated (assuming that we even have hard data to work with). My point is only this: it is just not obvious that even if all the international students are not there, anything would really change--objectively speaking--for the typical local student applying for admission at one of the local universities, unless
, one assumes that a larger
proportion of the local students at the pre-U level (which, incidentally, has been fairly constant in absolute terms in the time period) ought
to be given a place in the local universities.
I'm not even sure where this is going--there are just too many pieces of the puzzle missing. For one thing, a more complete set of statistics over a longer period of time would be helpful--both for the overall local education scene, and for each of the local universities. (update:
I found somewhat
more data to work with, scroll down)coda: this article
(jump to p. 85) on the international education scene in Singapore is very interesting (hat tip: knightofpentacles
): G. Sanderson, "International Education Developments in Singapore", International Education Journal
3.2 (July 2002): 85-103. First, it seems that the increase in international student enrollment is not just a purely Singaporean's initiative. There has been input from an "international advisory panel" (1997):
...perhaps the most resource-intensive initiative thus far arising from the 1997 recommendations by the international advisory panel, has been subsidised expansion of the international student program in Singapore with the clearly-stated aim to 'recruit top talent' to enhance the reputation for excellence of local institutions. (p. 96)
Furthermore, officially at least, the increase in international student enrollment is meant achieved on top of
rather than in place of
existing local enrollment:
In 2000, the Minister Rear Education reported that both NUS and NTU had met their targets of 20 per cent enrollment of international students. This appears to be the limit at which the Government is prepared to subsidise the program to achieve goals associated with building the reputation of Singapore's institutions. Public perception is that the increasing numbers of international students are depriving locals of places, but it is clear that the Government's international student program is a separate 'package' running parallel to the education of local students. Senior Minister of State (Education), Dr. Aline Wong, stated that "foreign students who enrol in institutes of higher learming are, on the whole, better qualified than their Singapore peers and they will raise the quality of the institutions and add to the vibrancy of the academic environment". Further, she maintained that all local students who qualify for a university place would gain entry to a Singapore university and that places would always be competitive due to their number being determined by 'projected manpower needs'. (p. 97)
Needless to say, I have no comments for or even any way to objectively verify Dr. Wong's claim. Anyway, the next bit is also interesting:
It is clear that Singapore's international student program is focused on 'spreading the word' about Singapore's institutions around the globe. The program has concentrated on enrolling students from neighbouning countries in the first instance, because of the Perception that students from western countries do not yet see Singaporean institutions as attractive options far a full degree in terms of relative standing and career enhancement. Many students from western countries are, however, beginning to gravitate to Singapore for exchange opportunities. The Government's subsidy program is akin to the aims of the International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) in Australia, where excellent students from abroad we sponsored to undertake postgraduate studies at Australian institutions. A main aspiration of the IPRS is that Australia's reputation as a provider of postgraduate tertiary education will be enhanced by the academic carerrs of the IPRS students and positive word-of-mouth marketing. (ibid.)
This is enough of a break from work.ok
: I found more data to work with. Maybe there will be more to this post later. Sigh...update:
more data is available from the Education Statistics Digest Online
, which has quite a bit of data, some of which goes back to 1984. But again, there is no specific data on international students. It took me a while to extract what I think is the relevant data, part of which I've turned into a chart (click to see larger version):
The main points:The Pre-University Cohort:
Between 1984 and 2004, the enrollment in the JCs have increased from 14,000 to 23,000, but as early as 1986, the trend is that JC enrollment has not seen tremendous growth, but has instead fluctuate mostly between a little below 20,000 (lowest 18,901 in 1992) to just above 24,000 (1988, 1989, 2001). Enrollment for the PU-Centers and Centralised Institutes, however, have definitely seen a decline. Until 1992, they still given a combine enrollment of some 6,000. Since then, it's been a steady decline to under 1,000 in 2004. The combined pre-university enrollment has moved from over 21,000 in 1984, to a peak of over 30,000 in 1988-89, to basically a steady trend fluctuating between 21,000 to 24,000 from 1992 to 2004. There is also data for students who sat and passed at least 2 'A's, 2 'AO's (including GP) from 1991 onwards. The number is, not surprisingly, also fairly constant--anywhere from just below 8,800 to just above 11,000, with the trend from 2000 onwards basically just above 10,000.University intake and enrollment:
The above contrasts sharply with the situation in the universities--NUS/NTU, and since 2000, SMU. The basic trend is one of steady and fairly consistent increase in intake and thus enrollment of approximately 5% (on average) per year. Consider: in 1984, the universities take in 5131 students and have a combined enrollment of 14,666. In 2004, the numbers are 12,194 and 41,628 respectively.
I am not a statistician--so take what I say with a pinch of salt--but unless I am completely mislead by the numbers, it seems that since as early as the late 1980s, approximately the same number of pre-university level students per year have been competing for not fewer, but a steadily increasing number of places in the local universities.
Now there is no hard data for the proportion of international students in the universities, but let's grant that in 2000, they achieved the target of having 20% of the enrollment for international students. Since this increased emphasis on international students was first established in 1997, let's say that for 1998 and 1999, they managed somewhat below that percentage while aftger 2000, around 20%, plus and minus some. But even with these complications factored in, we are still talking about either roughly the same (or a much more slowly increasing) number of places for a fairly steady (or at best, very slowly increasing) number of pre-university students per year. This means that at best, the conclusion of the last paragraph should be qualified to: since as early as the late 1980s, approximately the same number of pre-university level students per year have been competing for not fewer, but roughly the same or a very slowly increasing number of places in the local universities.
Once again, I will have to be circumspect. The available data does not allow for hard conclusions. But what it does suggest is that, subjective perceptions to the contrary, it is not obvious at all that it has actually become harder--competition wise
as opposed to, say, the increasing workload across the board in the schools--for the local pre-university level student to gain admission in the local universities. Nevertheless, there is something in the data that is worth noting. In the decade from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the steady increase in university enrollment--without the additional complication of an increasing number of international students--is not matched by any correspondingly increasing pre-university enrollment. It might well be the case that in those years, it became (in some sense) 'easier' to gain entrance into the universities than before. If this is right, then what might
have happened is that the new emphasis on international enrollment in the late 1990s onwards slowed this trend (of there being an increasing
number of university places for the same number of locals). This might well be the 'objective' basis of the more recent unhappiness.afterthought:
there is one other complication that I almost forgot to mention. In the above discussion, the "local student at the pre-U level" refers to someone who is enrolled in one of the local JCs, Pre-U Center, CI, etc, i.e., someone in the local system. But this doesn't mean that he must be local--he could well be an international student who came to Singapore to do his Secondary or Post-Secondary education. Again, I have no knowledge of any statistics concerning their numbers and what proportion of each cohort they occupy. How this additional complication will end up qualifying my (already tentative) analysis above remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is highly indicative that the usual complaint is that international student enrollment at the university level
is somehow depriving the local pre-U student of his place in the universities, rather than at the lower levels. [A preliminary glance at the data
indicates that enrollment in the primary schools--as in the case of the pre-U level institutions, seems to have stablized at around the 30,000 level since the late 1990s. The enrollment in the secondary schools has been even more stable--and for much longer; around the 16,000-18,000 level, that is, until the 2000s, where it shows an increasing trend (towards and past the 21,000 mark). Don't ask me what to make of all this...]another chart:
at the prompting of Elia's comment, I am also putting up the data for university intakes (1997-2004) sorted by courses. As can be seen, the two courses that show the most increase are Engineering and Science, also anecdotally the two in which most of the international students can be found (click to see larger version):
Now, anecdotally, the bulk of the international students are in Engineering and Science--which, as can be seen from the above chart, are the very two faculties that saw the greatest expansion since 1997. For Engine, the intake in 1997 was 3,017, and 4,320 in 2004--that's a 43% increase over the period. For Science, it's from 920 to 1,592, a 73% increase. In the same period, overall intake grew from 9,250 to 12,194--a smaller 30% increase.
But most importantly of all, the number of students with 2 'A's and 2'AO's (including GP) has been fairly stable at 10,000 plus/minus for the entire period (scroll up to see previous chart).
Now I would find it highly implausible that there has been a massive increase in the number of local students wanting to study Science and/or Engineering over the period 1997-2004--i.e., as high as an increase of 43 or 73%. If anything, I expect the number of local students wanting to study Science and/or Engineering to be fairly stable through the same period given that the number of students with 2 'A's and '2AOs' (with GP) is so stable (in fact, the entire JC/PUC enrollment is fairly stable as well).
The data is certainly consistent with and suggestive of the proposition that roughly the same number of local students are fighting for a steadily increasing number of places--for them--in faculties such as Engineering and Science.
(Notice also that through the same period, the intake for most of the other courses is fairly stable, or at best, saw much smaller rates of increase than either Engineering or Science. This ties in with my point that, once you abstract from the international enrollment, the demand for the various courses is fairly stable, because the size of the 'A' level cohort is fairly stable.)