--The Straits Times, 8 March 2011--
Education Minister reveals boosts to aid for needy students
By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer
INSTITUTE of Technical Education (ITE) student Timothy Tham, 16, is so keen on his visual arts course that he has sketched out his ambitions: a higher certificate, and then a polytechnic diploma.
The only possible stumbling block: his family's finances.
His mum, a clerk, and his father, a delivery man, have a combined income of just over $2,000 a month and they find it a strain to pay his fees and expenses, which amount to $1,000 a year.
But students like Timothy will get more help, as Education Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday announced generous boosts to the financial aid given out to ITE and tertiary students.
The Government will substantively enhance existing bursaries to help more students from both lower and middle-income families cope with the cost of tertiary education.
Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had earlier spelt out the expanded bursary schemes for polytechnic and university students.
During the debate on the Education Ministry's budget yesterday, Dr Ng spelt out details on the enhanced bursary scheme for ITE students.
Similar to the polytechnic and university schemes, bursaries will now be available to all ITE students who fall into the bottom two-thirds of households, based on per capita income. This is the household's income divided by the number of people in the home.
The bursary amounts they will receive have also been increased.
For example, now ITE students in the bottom 15th percentile income bracket (per capita household income of up to $300) will receive $1,000 a year, up from $800 a year. Those in the next income bracket up to the 20th percentile (per capita income of up to $500 a month) will receive $750 a year, up from $600 a year.
In giving the details, Dr Ng assured backbenchers who had spoken about rising fees that no Singaporean will be denied an education because he or she cannot afford it.
He noted that tertiary education fees here are kept low because of the Government's generous subsidy of between 75 per cent and 95 per cent for university, polytechnic and ITE courses.
Through a combination of subsidised loans for all, and bursaries for those from lower-income households, fees and other expenses remain manageable - and will be even more so with the latest changes, he said.
Dr Ng noted that with the enhanced bursaries, ITE students from the bottom one-third of households like Timothy will have their fees covered, while those in the polytechnics will receive bursaries of up to 80 per cent of their tuition fees and undergraduates' fees will be covered by up to 40 per cent.
Students in primary and secondary schools will also get more financial aid. Dr Ng spelt out the various schemes that are getting more funds to help a bigger number of needy students.
Apart from the one-off top-up of $130 to the Edusave accounts of all primary and secondary school students, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is also putting more money into school-administered funds that help needy students who cannot afford to take up enrichment classes or go for study trips overseas.
Summing up, he said the Government will continue to heavily subsidise education in primary and secondary schools 'to ensure universal access'.
Timothy, who was told by his ITE lecturers that he will now qualify for a $750 bursary every year, is grateful.
'The money will cover my fees and almost all my other schooling expenses,' he said, smiling.
ITE chief executive Bruce Poh said the enhanced scheme will make a difference to many more students like Timothy at the institute.
According to 2009 figures, 5,000 of its students, or about 20 per cent of its total population, were receiving bursaries.
According to MOE, last year close to 46,600 Singaporeans in primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutions were helped by the ministry's financial schemes.
In 2009, about 18,000 students in ITEs, polytechnics and universities were awarded bursaries.