Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Price Of Higher Education

Tertiary education is going to cost more in Singapore. With the Total Fertility Rate at a historic low of 1.16, do we really need another scary excuse not to have kids?

The country's 3 universities, 5 polytechnics and the Institutes of Technical Education made the announcement on Friday 14 January 2011. National University of Singapore Provost and deputy president, Tan Eng Chye, was pretty candid about his justification, "70 per cent of our budget goes to salaries. People would want to see their salary increase. I have to give salary increase for my staff as well." There's nary a mention of the quality or quantity of academic output of staff members who merit the financial bonanza. Productivity, it would seem, is not in the equation for the academic circle in Singapore. Nanyang Technological University (NTU), for instance, has tumbled 101 places, plunging from 73rd to 174th place in this year's edition of the widely viewed Times Higher Education World ranking of the world's top 200 universities. That won't be stopping them from hiking fees by about 4 per cent. (A NTU Engineering 2008 student wrote to say the increase is closer to 14.2 per cent for the new batch).

On 4 Nov 2005, eyebrows were raised over the NTU tender for 300 designer chairs. The business school of NTU was looking to buy 300 Herman Miller Aeron chairs costing as much as $2,200 each. Quite ingeniously, a 12-year warranty was specified in the tender so that the price paid will, when worked out over its lifespan, supposedly be similar to that of regular chairs, which cost less but may have a shorter life. Implying buying Ikea is akin to buying BATA - Buy And Throw Away. Since they have such expensive tastes, perhaps a peep into their books may yield some enlightening information - other than lecturers staring at students as cash cows crying out to be milked.

Looking at the 2009 Annual Report on their website, there appears to be a deficit of $129 million in 2009 (2008 was pure profit), no thanks to the $485 million expenditure on manpower. If you espy academics driving exotic cars, we know for sure where the money is going. There's also a total $276 million loss in investments, but the explanatory note is not in the pdf file.

But if you look at their Accumulated Surplus, there's a nice stash of $1.535 billion as of 31 March 2009. Which means there's nearly 12 years of reserves for bad years like 2009. Do you feel the sense of deja vu? It's the NKF syndrome all over again! The question to be asked during this election year: why the fee hike now, when inflation is rearing it's ugly head? You don't need a degree or diploma for the obvious answer - the lessons of TT Durai have been conveniently shelved and forgotten.


  1. productivity in academic circles? plse, they are intellectuals you know, not factory workers. as for the increase in quality - kindly look at the costly Aeron chairs over there. what on earth were you expecting?

  2. The expensive chairs could help to raise its ranking. I think infrastructure and facilities are components used in the ranking.

  3. Me will not be surprised if charges in our maternity hospital and care will be raised too despite the very low fertility rate.

  4. That's the same thing they did to our polyclinics, restructured hospitals and govt offices as if they are perpetually vying for the best renovated govt agency. And then the next moment you realised that the fees has gone up.

    Just look at HDB alone, pay a fortune for re-trenching its staff under corporisation, then re-employed them again and moved into a brand new high rise iconic building of its own while the old HDB building is let out as a second rate office building. No wonder even LTA wanted to have its own iconic building if not for fear of public sentiment.

    Really makes one wonder whether they really cared that it's public taxpayer's monies that they are simply wasting or squandering away.

  5. You are right about the increases. These are my records of the consultation charges at Geylang Polyclinic:
    2005 - $20.00
    2008 - $28.40
    2009 - $32.71
    2010 - $42.06

  6. If you have a chance to peer into the books of our higher education institutions, you will understand why they need to have tuition fee hike. It is true that as high as 75% of the expenses go to salary. But, whose salary? The true blue local independent professors are not paid much better than any of the western universities. Bulk of the salary budget probably goes to those foreign "innovative" academias that they employed to push up their ranking. By the way, it is silly to just believe the ranking. Simple logic will tell you why. How many advanced countries are there? USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Swiss, Japan, Australia,... let say count only 10. And, how many good and famous universities in each of these advanced countries? USA and UK have many... let say on average each has 3 (very very conservative since you can easily name more than 10 in the USA). So, total number of the true top universities could be at least 30. If you consider more countries like NZ, Italy, Russia, etc, the number may be more. So, how could ANUS be ranked at 20 something? This is a joke, right?

    Just look at the most recent NTU's fuel cell lab, do you really find any true blue local researcher in there? Perhaps, few locals are washing test tubes in that lab. This is HARD TRUE.
    (NB: ANUS = Associated NUS = NUS plus those partnerships with good universities of other advanced countries)

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