When Raeden Richardson YNUS ’17 signed his Tuition Grant Agreement at the beginning of his freshman year at Yale-NUS, he knew his post-college life would change.
Richardson, who is from Australia, had applied for Singapore’s Tuition Grant Scheme, a program introduced by the Singaporean government in 1980 that heavily subsidizes the cost of higher education in the country — but with strings attached. While Singaporean citizens can enroll in the TGS at no expense, international students and Singaporean permanent residents who take up the grant are bound by a three-year service obligation upon graduation, meaning they are required to work at a Singapore-registered company immediately after finishing college. Those who do not apply for the government subsidy — and therefore are bound by no obligation — must pay a supplementary fee of S$16,800 ($11,838) per year in lieu of the grant. This amount constitutes two-thirds of Yale-NUS’ after-grant tuition fee for Singapore permanent residents, and almost half of that for international students. Interim Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid at Yale-NUS Linette Lim said most students find the TGS attractive because it significantly reduces the cost of a Yale-NUS education, but students interviewed said the program’s requirements were not were clearly stated in their online admissions offers and financial aid letters.
“The Tuition Grant offers an opportunity to attend Yale-NUS College at a subsidized rate and helps to maintain Yale-NUS’ affordability to all students,” Lim said. “How a student chooses to finance his or her education, either through the Tuition Grant Scheme, financial aid, loans or personal financial resources, is a personal decision.”
Lim added that the majority of the college’s Singaporean permanent residents and international students have opted for the Tuition Grant Scheme. The school provides a loan program for students who do not want the TGS but cannot afford the supplementary fee, and students also have the option of applying for Yale-NUS’ financial aid independent from the TGS. International students make up 40 percent of the student body at Yale-NUS.
Lim declined to comment on the percentage of Yale-NUS students enrolled in the TGS, as well as the percentage of those who take up loans to finance their supplementary fee. She said students are informed of the TGS through Yale-NUS’ financial aid website, admission packets and informational seminars at the time of admission and the time of matriculation.
Of the eight international students interviewed, all of whom opted for the TGS, three said they were aware of the program when they applied to Yale-NUS. The rest learned of the program either through mailed admission packets or Experience Yale-NUS Weekend, a two-day event for admitted students to visit and explore the school.
“Though I was very excited to be admitted to Yale-NUS and to find the generous financial aid package, the Tuition Grant Scheme was a surprise,” Richardson said. “It was added to the offer without being made clear until later, when reading through the financial aid documents that were mailed from Singapore to Melbourne. Once I read these documents, the Scheme was explained clearly and I understood the gravity of signing onto Yale-NUS.”
Silvia Lara YNUS ’18 said Yale-NUS does not hold a formal session explaining the TGS to students, and that the college omitted some details of the program during its informal presentation to admitted students.
Lara said the school told her she could defer the three-year bond if she wished to attend graduate school, but did not tell her about the compulsory Banker’s Guarantee she would have to pay as a deposit if she applied for the deferment. Students who wish to postpone their three-year service obligation for study in master’s or doctoral degree programs need to apply for the deferral, which is subject to the approval of Singapore’s Ministry of Education on a case-by-case basis. The Banker’s Guarantee equates to the total sum of the grants received by a student from the government plus 10 percent annual compound interest, and is kept as a deposit during graduate education.
“This is a very important detail for people like me who need a Ph.D. for their intended career,” Lara said. “As of now, I am quite worried about my professional future.”
Though the details of the agreement are somewhat confusing, students can find all of the TGS’ conditions on the Ministry of Education’s website. Francesca Maviglia YNUS ’19 said Yale-NUS was very responsive whenever she asked for clarifications on the terms of the agreement.
Hyung-Seok John Kim YNUS ’19 agreed that the presentation of the TGS given at Experience Yale-NUS Weekend was not thorough and detailed, adding that most of what he knew about the program came from his own research by looking at the TGS website and asking other already enrolled international students about it.
Lim said that even after accounting for the Tuition Grant, Yale-NUS is much more affordable for international students than most peer institutions in the United States. The school has a very good record of attracting top international students to Yale-NUS, helped in part by its generous overall financial aid packages, Lim added.
But an international student who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue said that at U.S. colleges, students with good financial aid packages will not expect to be too deep in debt regardless of their post-graduation plans. At Yale-NUS, however, because need-based aid and merit-based scholarships only cover the portion of tuition not covered by TGS, any student who breaks the bond will be at least S$80,000 in debt, the student said.
The TGS is reversible, meaning a student can opt out of the program even after signing up. Those who wish to do so have to pay for the grant money they have already received, plus a 10 percent annual compound interest rate. Therefore, if a student wishes to reverse the contract at the time of graduation, the student would need to pay at least S$80,000 in a lump sum to the Singapore government.
All eight of the international students interviewed signed the Tuition Grant Agreement, but two broke the contract after signing it. One student who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue said he ended up receiving a loan to buy back the three-year bond which would have limited his future plan to attend graduate schools.
Adrian Stymne YNUS ’17 said he opted out of the contract this summer because of a change in his post-graduate plans and paid the fee through parental support and loans from the Swedish government.
Students interviewed said the three-year bond could deter international students who do not plan to work in Singapore after graduation from attending school there.
“[As] an international student, it is of course difficult to know coming in that you want to give not only four, but seven, of your most formative and decisive years to this country,” Stymne said. It was nonetheless an easy decision for him to sign the agreement, he said, because he knew he could break the bond if he chose to at any point.
Martin Vasev YNUS ’18, an international student from Bulgaria, said he had “mixed feelings” when signing the agreement. He said the bond initially seemed restrictive because it meant legally tying three years of his future to Singapore. However, Vasev said that since Singapore is a country with good career opportunities, he would have stayed in Singapore after graduation regardless of whether he signed the agreement or not.
Kim, a freshman from Korea, said the grant is appealing for students not only in need of additional tuition assistance, but also for those “dead set” on working in Singapore after graduation. He added that because he is interested in entering the pharmaceutical industry — a field in which Singapore has strong performance — the three-year service obligation is not a burden but rather an opportunity for him.
Tuition at Yale-NUS for this academic year is S$18,000 for Singapore citizens, S$25,200 for Singapore permanent residents and S$36,000 for international students.
Correction, Nov. 17: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the cost of next academic year’s tuition at Yale-NUS.