“All six local universities have raised their tuition fees for the new academic year, largely to pay for rising operating costs, including that of creating online learning systems, they said” (Local Universities Increase Fees, Citing Rising Operating Costs, Calvin Yang).
With persistent inflationary concerns and other cost pressures, this ritual of universities increasing tuition fees appears reasonable at first glance (ST, Apr. 4). Yet the dissatisfaction of undergraduates often stems from the poor communication of announcements, and the corresponding lack of clarity. Even with generous government subsidies college remains an expensive undertaking, so administrations should entertain demands for further substantiation.
Therefore besides the generic justifications of “rising operating costs” and “creating online learning systems”, there should be supplementary information to justify hikes in tuition fees. The request is not necessarily for comprehensive financial statements which may be sensitive or tedious to produce, but for more exposition on how the respective schools intend to use the additional funds – if any. As a student of the Business School at the National University of Singapore (NUS) I would for instance appreciate more useful explanations on costs for “the faculty, equipment, and operating costs” that Professor Tan Eng Chye of NUS spoke of.
These aforementioned details do not need to be made public, and could be disseminated to students through internal circulars or sharing sessions. Questions about how different degree programmes determine their fee hikes can thus be raised, with appropriate scrutiny of these methodologies. Faculty members and undergraduates could also quiz administrators on the efficacy of new pedagogies or infrastructure, besides feedback exercises per se.
Another assurance that universities often cite is the availability of financial help in the form of “scholarships, bursaries, and loans”, though they should quantify these schemes. In other words, what is the total amount made available to prospective students from low-income households, and has this amount increased in tandem with the fee hikes? Along this tangent how many students have been awarded scholarships or bursaries, and when adjusted proportionately has this number grown? To ascertain how aware students might be of such financial help, have there been more applicants to these schemes over the years? Pragmatically one might even wonder whether starting salaries aggregated from the Graduate Employment Survey matches up to these fee increases.
These endeavours of accountability might seem pedantic at the moment, yet in another light providing greater clarity could strengthen relationships with stakeholders. No one in Singapore should be denied access to higher education because of an inability to pay.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.