Using relevant data important when conducting survey

Putting aside the young of royalty and industrialists, foreign undergraduates do not live in luxury homes.

A recent survey by HSBC said that Singapore is the second-most expensive city for foreign undergraduates.

This survey has led some to ask if the Republic is losing its allure as an education hub.

Also, in response to the survey, some analysts have suggested rising rents around universities as a contributing factor to the high cost.

Renters, landlords, real estate agents, property investors and undergraduates can take two lessons from this case.

First, make sure you validate the sources you use to make property decisions.

In this case, 

For example, the cost of living in Singapore in the HSBC survey jumped from US$9,363 (S$11,890) to US$20,292 in just one year.

The reason for this dramatic difference appears to be that HSBC changed its source for measuring cost of living.

This year, it relied on information from the expatriate portal Expatistan. The year before, HSBC sourced cost data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) - an educational statistics company based in the UK.

The difference in the two studies is that while Hesa approached the cost of living from a student's perspective, Expatistan's applies to expatriates.

Putting aside the young of royalty and industrialists, foreign undergraduates do not live in luxury homes. Most students live several persons to a flat and subsist on cup noodles. As such, it is dubious to apply expatriate cost-of-living to that of foreign students.

The second lesson is that public perception (and surveys) may not reflect the current situation.

It is true that rents have increased near the universities. But over what period and, more importantly, what are the latest trends?

In order to answer these questions and properly assess the situation, you need access to timely, relevant, and accurate information.

According to SRX Property, rent around the universities has increased since the global financial crisis.

But there are several critical caveats that landlords, real estate agents and foreign undergraduates should take into consideration.

Median private rent around the four major universities has declined since the first quarter of last year.

For example, if you attend the Singapore Management University (SMU) and live in a nearby 1,000 sq ft flat, median rent is cheaper by $445 per month or $5,340 per year.

In the case of SMU and the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), the rate of decline per quarter is greater than the increase in rent since the global financial crisis.

For example, if you attend SIM, median rent has dropped an average of $46 per quarter since the first quarter last year. In contrast, during the build-up in rent, the average quarterly rate was $39.


In the case of HDB flats near SMU, monthly median rent has declined by $167 while the other three universities have seen increases ranging from $12 to $84 a month.

The trend in rentals around the universities is clear.

Private rents have been coming down as more supply goes on the market and renters look for less expensive alternatives, like HDB flats.

Furthermore, the $84 monthly increase in rent for an HDB unit that two SIM students are splitting is certainly not responsible for the US$10,929 increase in the cost of living reported by HSBC.

So, here's my advice to foreign undergraduates who want to live near a Singapore university: Stick to the noise coming from your headphones rather than the noise from the market.

Sam Baker is co-founder of SRX, an information exchange formed by leading real estate agencies in Singapore to disseminate market pricing information and facilitate property listings and transactions. For more details on the data used in this article, visit


This article was first published on September 27, 2014.
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