The Straits Times, Tuesday, December 17, 2013
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent


HIGH tuition fees and the strong Aussie dollar are among the reasons being cited for a dip in the number of Singaporean students heading Down Under to earn their degrees. However, Australian universities running degree courses in Singapore are thriving.

Australian government figures released to The Straits Times show there were 8,100 Singaporeans enrolled in the 39 Australian universities at all levels in 2012, including 2,700 who moved there last year. Yet just two years earlier, in 2010, there were more than 9,000 studying there, with over 3,000 students arriving that year.

Australian university officials attribute the dip to more university places being made available in Singapore, the strong Australian dollar as well as high tuition fees and living costs in cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

Some universities there are charging more than A$30,000 (S$34,000) a year, which they say also accounts for the higher enrolment in Singapore. Just five years ago, there were 15,000 students enrolled in Australian university programmes in Singapore.

The number has since swelled to 26,000 – of whom an estimated 70 per cent are Singaporeans while 30 per cent are foreigners. Australian universities make up the biggest proportion of foreign schools offering degree courses in Singapore, with 23 currently doing so. Several British and American universities also have tie-ups with private schools here.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, which runs degree courses with the Singapore Institute of Management, has the biggest enrolment among Australian institutions, with 6,500 students, up from 5,800 in 2010.

Perth-based Murdoch University, which offers degree programmes with Kaplan Higher Education and the Singapore Manufacturing Federation’s Institute of Higher Learning, has expanded its enrolment from 500 students in Singapore in 2005 to 5,500 currently. To support the growth, it recently opened its first office in the Republic and appointed its first Singapore dean, Dr Peter Waring.

James Cook University has seen its student numbers go up to 3,000 this year from 2,500 last year. The Queensland-based institution has had to set up a second campus here to accommodate the growing numbers and is looking for a bigger site to hold the students from both campuses, as well as to accommodate further increases. Curtin, which has a campus in Jalan Rajah in the Balestier area, has seen its total student population grow from 1,300 three years ago to 2,000 now.

Mr Simon Phillips, its director of marketing and admissions here, said polytechnic graduates enrolled in Australian degree courses find the generous exemptions that Curtin and other Aussie universities give to be a big draw.

Curtin exempts poly graduates from half or two-thirds of the credits for a degree course. This, plus the fact that there are three semesters in an academic year here as opposed to two in Australia, means they take only a year to upgrade to a degree. Tuition fees charged by Curtin here are also about 40 per cent less than in Perth.

Ms Maisie Tan, 20, who will enter James Cook University early next year, said she changed her plans to head overseas after seeing the hefty fees and living costs.

“I did my sums and heading to Australia would cost double,” she said. “It would wipe out my parents’ retirement savings.”

Australian High Commissioner Philip Green noted that Australia remains a significant study destination for Singaporeans because of its geographic proximity and quality institutions.

“There are over 100,000 Singaporeans who are alumni of Australian universities,” he said.

“I am sure a significant number of Singaporeans will continue to head to Australia to study. And with the Australian government’s new initiative to offer scholarships to Australian undergraduates to study in Asian countries including Singapore, there will be many more young Australians coming to Singapore.”