Zoe Schlossmacher, a 19-year-old Singaporean student, pays approximately GBP£29,000 (SGD$52,049) per year for her education in Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol.
Although she’s stayed put in Bristol, England, she has been able to attend fewer classes on campus as the country has entered three separate lockdowns, the first of which began on Mar 23 2020. As of now, most of her lessons are home-based as movement restrictions are still in place to curb the spread of the potentially deadlier coronavirus variant.
During these lockdowns, she has been allowed to go to the school’s libraries and clinical skills labs for practicals twice a week, which is less frequent than usual. However, she feels that her school fees should be reduced as “there is still not sufficient face-to-face teaching to justify the amount being paid by students, especially international [students]”.
Sharing a similar sentiment is Jacques Ng, a 19-year-old Agricultural Science student who is currently enrolled in Murdoch University in Perth.
Since she returned to Singapore in Feb last year, she’s been attending online classes from home, which to her is less engaging. She still pays approximately AUD$22,000 (SGD$22,679) yearly for her education.
“It’s unfair because I’m paying the same school fees as other people who’re in the university and using the school facilities,” she says.
She also feels slightly “cheated” out of her overseas schooling experience.
In contrast, there are students who feel that their schools have the right to charge the same fees.
Daryl Chiang, a 22-year-old student who studies Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at the London School of Economics, pays GBP£21,000 (SGD$37,725) a year in school fees.
He has decided to remain in Singapore to attend classes online, and he feels it’s only fair that students continue to pay the full fees.
“It’s also expensive for the school to invest in software for digitised learning and to integrate their services online, [such as] library e-books, a platform to host pre-recorded lectures, subscription to Zoom, et cetera,” he explains.
In Singapore, the opinions are mixed as well. Students like Jeff Chin don’t mind paying the same fee – approximately $11,100 a year – for his Computer Science degree at The Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), although he now goes to campus for classes only on Wednesdays.
The 22-year-old doesn’t feel like he needs to have more face-to-face classes to get his money’s worth. “I don’t see a need to return to school for tutorials and lectures,” he says, adding that it’s good to cut commuting time and focus on the learning.
But Jeff feels that if Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) were to continue with hybrid learning or full home-based learning permanently, school fees should be lowered at some point.
“It would help ease students and their parents through this difficult period,” Jeff says. “Even though the Covid-19 situation is improving in Singapore, many parents still have not gotten back their jobs. It may also take time for families to recover from financial losses. It also seems reasonable given that the school can probably save a lot on electricity, water and maintenance.”
Mr Murali Pillai, a Member of Parliament, has asked if tertiary students will get tuition fee rebates given the cost-savings at IHLs. In response, the Ministry of Education said while there are cost-savings on some fronts, IHLs have also spent more on the enhancement of IT systems, the purchase of new tools and the development of new materials for online learning. There’s also additional costs on cleaning and disinfecting campus facilities and equipment.
To help residents cope with the challenging economic situation, tuition fees for the 2020 academic year are frozen nevertheless, said MOE, adding that it’ll continue to review the fees annually with IHLs.