Singapore

Ong Ye Kung: No merger of higher learning institutions

There are no plans to merge polytechnics, universities or the campuses of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) even though cohort sizes are falling, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung has said.

This is because despite falling cohort sizes of between 10 to 15 per cent, these institutions still have a critical mass of students.

He was speaking to Singapore reporters on Thursday night (Friday, Singapore time) at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, where he was on a four-day working visit.

Mr Ong noted that questions had been raised over whether institutes of higher learning would merge, after the Education Ministry announced last month that eight junior colleges would merge in 2019 because of falling cohort sizes.

Illustrating his point, Mr Ong said the ITE currently has an intake of about 15,000 across its three campuses.

Even if demographic changes mean this number could go down by 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2020 or 2025, "with three campuses we will (still) see a good critical mass".

The situation with the five polytechnics and six universities - which have an intake of 24,500 and 19,000 students each year respectively - is similar, he said. Cohort sizes are projected to fall between 10 per cent and 15 per cent by 2025, but the polytechnics and universities would still have a critical mass of students.

Universities also educate students at a "fairly specialised level" and do not need a big critical mass, he added.

He cited, as an example, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, which has an intake of 500 to 600 students a year.

"That alone is enough for a niche university that is focused on design and tech," he said, adding that falling cohort sizes could mean that there would be more colleges and programmes "focused on certain areas".

Asked if it was cost-effective to maintain the same number of institutions despite falling cohort sizes, Mr Ong said: "You can have something that is small and beautiful, not everything has to be large and full of economies of scale."

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES

UniversityPolytechnicITE