By Leow Si Wan
FEE hikes by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and the five polytechnics, to kick in with the new school year in April, will sharpen the distinction between citizens and non-citizens.
The hike will be the first of several measures aimed at distinguishing Singaporeans and foreigners to take effect.
Singaporeans in the ITE's Nitec or Higher Nitec courses will pay just $10 more each year.
Those in the polytechnic diploma courses will pay $50 more a year - $2,150, up from $2,100.
The hike for non-citizens will be much bigger: Those admitted into the ITE from April will pay up to $3,222 more a year than the previous year, and those entering the polytechnic diploma courses, up to $1,150 more.
Existing foreign students in these institutions will also pay higher school fees - up to $80 more for a diploma course.
Tuition fees were last raised in 2006.
Republic Polytechnic (RP) principal Yeo Li Pheow said: 'The Government decided to keep fees at the status quo last year because of the economic recession but this year, as the economy turns, it is timely to raise the fees.
'It is to reflect the higher costs of poly education.'
This latest hike comes less than two months after the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that school fees for permanent residents in mainstream schools here will go up by more than three times over two years, starting next year.
This move, coupled with the one to give Singaporeans an extra ballot slip when they register their children for Primary 1, is aimed at giving citizens an edge in the education system.
It follows Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement last year that the way citizens and permanent residents (PRs) are treated will gradually be tweaked 'to reflect the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship'.
The MOE said PRs account for no more than 5 per cent of students enrolled at the ITE and the five polytechnics; international students make up no more than 10 per cent of the enrolment in these institutions.
Of the five polytechnics here - Singapore Polytechnic (SP), Temasek Polytechnic (TP), Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) and RP - the bigger ones, like NP, NYP and SP, each have about 15,000 students.
A spokesman for the polytechnics said the cost of providing a polytechnic education is expected to go up by around 3 per cent a year over the next few years.
The fee hike would enable them 'to continue to invest in capability-building initiatives', including improving the quality of teaching.
The ITE and the polytechnics have given an assurance that financial assistance schemes are in place to help students placed under financial strain by the hikes.
At least three such schemes are now available for foreign students.
Students, both citizens and foreigners, while accepting the fee increases, said they expect the quality of facilities and programmes to improve in tandem.
Ms Kalaivani Serga, a Singaporean in her first year at RP, said the increase for Singaporeans was 'reasonable', but that she hoped the schools will develop better facilities and run more exciting activities.
Filipino Paul Castaneda, a PR and second-year student at TP, said: 'I think the school fees are still very competitive - and I know because I did my research before coming here.
'People who choose to study here must be prepared to pay for the quality of education provided.'
One student, however, expressed concern over the fee hike.
China native Luo Xiao Xiao, who is in her second year in NP, said: 'The original school fees already showed a difference between foreigners and Singaporeans. If fees keep increasing, it could be tough for certain groups of people.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.