Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A letter to the Feedback Unit

Fox has decided to be a good Singaporean citizen by opting to give feedback to the Singapore Feedback Unit. Actually, Fox is just curious about a couple of things and would like to know a bit more about his government's policies. So, Fox decided to write a letter to the Feedback Unit, specifically addressed to the Ministry of Education in Singapore, which went something like the following.


I have searched on the internet and have been unable to obtain the following information:
  1. The number of foreign students in our local universities and polytechnics from 1996 to 2005.
  2. The number of foreign students in our local universities and polytechnics under the MOE tuition grant scheme from 1996 to 2005.
  3. The total annual value of MOE tuition grants that have been awarded to the aforementioned foreign students in local universities and polytechnics from 1996 to 2005.
  4. The proportion of the aforementioned foreign students who have successfully completed their bonds obligatory under the MOE tuition grant scheme from 1996 to 2005.
I wonder if such information can be made available by the MOE to the public. If possible, I will like to have such information. If not, I will like to know why such information cannot be released.

Thank you and regards,
Fox believes that such information ought to be made available to the tax-paying public. There is considerable debate over the foreign talent policy which Fox believes to be highly complex and to encompass several issues that has to examined one at a time. For example, there is the matter of job creation as well as that of the large number of government-subsidized foreign students in local institutions. Since the latter involves the use of taxpayer's monies, Fox thinks that the public should at least know how much money is spent.

On a more immediate matter, Fox is also interested in how the relevant government body/bodies respond to enquiries of this nature. On browsing through the website of the Singapore Feedback Unit, he has realized that replies to feedback often do not answer directly the questions that have been posed. Take for example, in this brief letter, a member of the public wrote:
Dear Sir/Mdm,

I understand that the 4th child in a family is not entitled to the Edusave fund. As a result, the 4th child concerned would felt ostracised, especially when his classmates would be using their Edusave funds for their class outings while he/she has to pay from his/her own pockets.

Such a regulation is contradicting the Government's call for Singaporeans to have more children.
On browsing through the Edusave Scheme website, Fox notes that the website states:
However, only the first, second and third child were eligible for the Edusave account prior to 2004. In 2005, the Government will contribute $170 and $200 to the Edusave account of each eligible student at primary and secondary level respectively.
Fox would imagine that the person who came up with that feedback in the first place would like to know why the 4th child is not entitled to the Edusave fund and/or if the government is planning to change the existing policy to accomodate the 4th child and/or how the government reconciles the policy with the call for more children.

Predictably, the reply is not really satisfatory. It skirts the issue of why there is no Edusave grant for the 4th child and extols the merit of the Edusave scheme in a somewhat irrelevant way.
Dear contributor,
I refer to the above feedback.
The Edusave Pupils' Fund is one way in which Singapore pupils benefit from the Edusave Scheme. The Edusave Pupils' Fund is limited to the first three children of families, in line with the national population policy, which encourages couples to have three children or more if they can afford it.
Besides the Edusave Pupils Fund, the Edusave Scheme also makes available Scholarships, Merit Bursaries and Good Progress Awards to citizen pupils who have done well academically or shown significant academic progress. The Edusave Scholarships are awarded to students who have obtained good academic results, whereas the Good Progress Awards are given to students who have made significant improvements in their academic performances. Eligible students from low-income families are also awarded the Edusave Merit Bursaries. Since 2001, Edusave Awards for Achievement, Good Leadership and Service have also been given to students to recognise their leadership quality, service to community and schools, and excellence in non-academic activities.
In addition to these awards, schools and technical institutes are given Edusave grants to run enrichment programmes for their pupils.
Seen in totality, the Edusave scheme maximises opportunities for all Singaporean children. Students who do not qualify for the Edusave accounts can still benefit from the Edusave awards if they meet the criteria and the Edusave grants channelled to schools. Moreover, the heavy government subsidy in education and the wide range of financial support for every Singaporean child provide many opportunities to nurture our local talents.
Thank you for your feedback.
Not very satisfactory, Fox is afraid.

Back to the perfectly innocuous questions on the MOE tuition grant scheme for foreign students, Fox has the feeling that if the MOE do reply to his enquiries, they would first wax lyrical (irrelevantly) about how the presence of foreign students benefits the education of our local students and how important it is to have foreign students to keep Singapore's education system competitive and to draw foreign talents to top up Singapore's workforce. Then they would also mention how the tuition scheme subsidizes the education of the local students who form 80 percent of the student population in our local institutions. Also, they would mention how most foreign students stay on to join the workforce. Blah, blah, blah.

It is quite likely that the MOE will not reply directly to Fox's questions, if at all. Then, because of the furtiveness, Fox will have to draw his conclusions about the soundness of the policy of subsidizing foreign students.

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