Education push leads to Mendaki's deficit

Ramped-up spending on education programmes has led to a budget deficit for the first time for self-help group Mendaki.

"The policy adopted by the board is to be more aggressive in our education-related activities," said Mendaki chairman and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim. "Our members have acknowledged this is the right way to go, and will continue to do so."

It ran a $1.8 million deficit this year, largely due to increased spending on tuition, tertiary fee subsidies and loans.

About $30 million was given to 4,175 students last year under the Tertiary Tuition Fee Scheme - 25 per cent more than the $24 million given out in 2012.

The group spent more last year because it had revised its income eligibility criteria for the scheme, allowing more than two-thirds of Malay families to qualify for a tertiary education subsidy of 50 per cent or more. The changes were made as more Malay students were going to universities and polytechnics, and because household incomes had risen.

The scheme was also extended last year to cover courses from Lasalle College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), Yale-NUS College and the Nanyang Technological University Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. Currently, 102 students are studying at Nafa, while one is at Yale-NUS.

Dr Yaacob was also proud of a Primary School Leaving Examination and O-level tuition programme that had done well in the pilot phase.

"The feedback was positive, and we did it with minimal funding from the community," he said. "We will now start the programme earlier and at more places, so that students will have a longer runway for their revision."

He said Mendaki had been "conservative" with its fiscal management so far, which is why it can afford to dip into its reserves but that is not sustainable, he stressed.

"We must avail ourselves first of the resources at the national level," he said, such as national funds for youth programmes. And Mendaki will continue to look at ways to be more productive with its existing resources, he added.

Besides fiscal management, Dr Yaacob was pleased with the group's increased outreach efforts. He pointed to the Nadi Khidmat programme - mosques in the heartland which can be tapped on as a venue to give out aid - and Mendaki@Heartlands - satellite centres in Pasir Ris and Woodlands - as good examples. "We need to reach out to the more vulnerable segments of the community, who have either not heard of Mendaki or are unable to make use of its programmes," he said.

This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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