Friday, February 23, 2007

Foreign students in Singapore

A few days ago, the post Thoughts on Foreign Talent appeared on Mr Wang's blog. In the post, he questions the necessity of bringing in large numbers of foreign students from China/India/Vietnam/Malaysia, at taxpayers' expense, into Singapore and some guy in the comment section replies that it is part of the wooing of talent.

Let's pause for a moment, put on our thinking caps and think.

Finished? Okay. Do you think this makes sense? Heck no. Let me explain why. The basic assumption is that the opportunity cost of not bringing in these students will result in them not coming to Singapore in the first place and hence, cause some sort of talent deficit in Singapore. This is clearly wrong because:

1. The overwhelming majority of skilled foreign workers in Singapore are not educated in Singapore. Any deficit in 'talents' can be remedied by just giving out more employment passes.

2. When you poach graduates from China/India/Vietnam/Malaysia who have been educated in their home countries, you are effectively taking the educational subsidies spent by those countries i.e. obtaining a brain gain. On the other hand, when you take an unproven teenager from another country and bear the cost of his/her tertiary education, it becomes more of an increase in head count than a real brain gain. This benefit vanishes if he/she were to move to another country and contribute to the brain drain of Singapore. On the other hand, no such loss is incurred when China-trained engineers move from Singapore to the states.

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