In his 2014 National Day Rally, PM Lee Hsien Loong stressed that having relevant and deep skills rather than degrees can lead to good jobs that pay well. The SDP welcomes such a change of attitude – if it is genuine. We have reason to be doubtful. In 2007, Wikileaks leaked a cable that revealed that the Government “does not plan to encourage more students to get a higher education. The university enrollment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25 percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need everyone to get a four-year degree.”
Having decided this, the Government is now embarked on an exercise to dissuade Singaporeans from pursuing a degree. Hence, Mr Lee’s NDR speech on Sunday. What is disturbing, however, is that this same Government is spending millions of dollars to lure foreign students to study at our universities and, yes, become graduates. (One in 5 undergraduate students here is a foreigner.) It even provides these students with financial assistance through the Tuition Grant scheme; we spend more that $200 million a year on this. What’s more the Government makes them sign a bond depriving locals of more jobs.
And the Prime Minister says he has to cap the number of Singaporean graduates because of the tight labour market.
Mr Lee also tries to assure the people that non-graduates can find jobs that pay well. At the same time, however, he continues to let in foreign workers from our poorer neighbours to come in and compete with Singaporeans, suppressing our wages. Is it any wonder that the people lose trust in the PAP? So what do we do to resolve this problem? The SDP has proposed the following policies:
1. Scrap the Tuition Grant Scheme for foreign students
Tuition grants for foreign undergraduates should be discontinued. Instead, the funds will be used to provide interest-free loans to any Singaporean student who qualifies for our universities. Graduates start paying back the loans only when they are gainfully employed. It is the job of a government to find ways to upgrade our economy so that graduates can find good jobs, not artificially put a cap on the number of citizens getting a degree.
Step 2: Limit the number of foreign workers
Singapore is over-crowded as it is (we’re the 3rd most densely populated country in the world). We cannot afford 6.9 million people, let alone 10 million that some establishment figures want to see. Overcrowding in Singapore must be addressed. Under the SDP’s population policy, businesses will be mandated – as opposed to “encouraged” under the PAP’s Fair Consideration Framework – to employ Singaporeans first, and foreign PMETs wishing to work here will be strictly vetted as to their skills and qualifications before being allowed into Singapore.
Step 3: Legislate minimum wage
It’s easy for the PAP to tell Singaporeans that the can get good paying jobs without a degree. With continued low productivity and high income inequality in Singapore, this statement must be viewed with suspicion. The SDP has repeatedly called for the introduction of Minimum Wage as well as for the Government to scale back its involvement in business through GLCs so that we can cultivate local entrepreneurs and, thereby, raise productivity.
Saying one thing and doing another is the quickest way of losing the people’s trust. The PAP must not patronise and manipulate Singaporeans like children, instead it should reason with us like adults.
This article is courtesy of the Singapore Democratic Party.