NDR 2019 — More Affordable Preschool, Polytechnic & University Fees for Mid-Income Families

preschool ndr 2019 education

On the education front, it was good news all around at last weekend’s National Day Rally 2019. A huge chunk of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech this year was dedicated to announcing efforts to make education more affordable in Singapore.

As it is, basic education from primary to secondary school is reasonably cheap and accessible in Singapore. In fact, as PM Lee brought up in his speech, the cost of primary school is almost zero.

Now, it seems that the government is pushing the starting point earlier, making preschool the new primary 1. It won’t be free — not yet, anyway — but they’ll be pumping a lot more money into early childhood education.

They’re also pouring resources into lowering post-secondary school studies; making tertiary education at local polytechnics and universities more affordable.

With that, let’s dig into the National Day Rally 2019 announcements regarding education.


For families with young children: more subsidies and resources poured into preschools

It’s no secret that as Singapore sees rising costs in, well, almost everything, parents are feeling increasingly concerned about whether they can afford to raise (and educate) their children in Singapore.

At present, monthly preschool fees are capped at $720 for large anchor operators and $800 for smaller ones. That comes up to $8,640 to $9,600 per year.

Earlier this year (Jul 2019), the People’s Action Party Women’s Wing shared survey feedback that the costs of school fees was 1 of the 2 largest factors when choosing a preschool (the other being proximity to home) and that households with monthly incomes of under $5,000 typically spend at least 10% of their income on out-of-pocket preschool expenses.

In bid to make preschool education more affordable (and citing the same survey), PM Lee announced plans to “more than double” the spending on early childhood education over the next few years. Currently, the number sits at about $1 billion.

Here are the announced policy changes:


1 . Additional Childcare Subsidy income ceiling raised from $7,500 to $12,000

To help more middle-income families, the income ceiling for the Additional Childcare Subsidy will be raised from $7,500 to $12,000 per month per household. According to PM Lee, that’s about 30,000 more eligible households starting next year.

Here are the current childcare subsidies available:

Type of childcare subsidy Maximum subsidy  Eligibility criteria 
Basic subsidy — working mum  Infant care $600, childcare $300   No income ceiling. Eligible as long as child is Singaporean and enrolled in ECDA-licensed centre.
Basic subsidy — non-working mum  Infant and childcare $150 each No income ceiling. Eligible as long as child is Singaporean and enrolled in ECDA-licensed centre.
Additional subsidy  Infant care $540, childcare $440  Mother or single father working at least 56 hours per month.

Household income ceiling is $7,500 (or $12,000 from 2020) per month. 

Child is Singaporean, enrolled in ECDA-licensed centre 

Basic childcare subsidy

Currently, if you’re a working mum, you can get up to $300 (childcare) to $600 (infant care) of subsidies under the basic childcare subsidy. There is no income ceiling for that.

Additional childcare subsidy

To qualify for the additional childcare subsidy as well, there’s a minimum working criteria and income ceiling to be eligible. It is for mothers and single fathers who work a minimum 56 hours a month, and earn under $7,500 ($12,000 from next year onwards) per household or $1,875 per person.

With that, you can get up to $540 (infant care) or $440 (childcare) off your fees.

How much subsidy can you get?

To find out how much subsidy you’re eligible for, you can input your salary and household details on the official Early Childhood Development Agency website and it will compute it for you.

Do note that the maximum subsidies are quoted above; the actual amount will depend on the type of childcare programme your child is enrolled in and your income (for additional subsidy).

It seems that the quantum of the subsidies will also increase, with more details to follow by the end of the month.

PM Lee brought up an example of the Lows, a family with 2 children, who they currently pay $560 per child per month for in preschool fees. With the changes, they will pay only $370 each, which is more than 30% less.

For further reading: Child Care Subsidies in Singapore — What Do You Qualify For?


2. Government to build more public preschools, train teachers at NIEC

Likening their approach to local housing and healthcare — where there are good and affordable government-funded options — PM Lee says they are working to increase the ratio of public preschools from half to 80% or more.

That should be welcome news, especially for families living in younger estates.

This has been an ongoing effort. If you have been paying attention to the past years’ rallies and speeches, you’d know that the government has been consistently pumping resources into preschools.

The full-day preschool capacity has double to 180,000 since 2012, and there are now a total of 24 MOE kindergartens — a number that’s set to double in the next few years as well.

I have personally noticed this. I’ve not passed an HDB void deck without a PCF Sparkletots in a long time.

But it’s not just quantity that the government is hoping to increase. It’s the quality, too.

This is done through the set up of the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC), which specialises in training preschool teachers.

Preschool looks truly set to become the new primary 1.


3. KidSTART programme to continue, taking in 5,000 (instead of 1,000) children

Led by Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), KidSTART helps disadvantaged children up to age 6 by giving needy families advice and support regarding nutrition, child development and parent-child interaction.

There are 3 parts to KidSTART:

  1. Regular home visits to share tips on child growth and development.
  2. Weekly community-based sessions to help parents and caregivers learn how to bond and guide their children.
  3. Enhanced support at selected preschools by providing additional resources for the families.

The pilot was rolled out in 2016, focusing on low-income families in the Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer, Boon Lay, Taman Jurong and Geylang Serai areas. The trial costed $20 million, and has helped 1,000 children to date.

Airing a video featuring 2 beneficiary families, PM Lee announced that the KidSTART programme has been successful and will be expanded to help 5X more children (5,000 instead of 1,000).


For families with teens: more help for students to pursue diplomas and degrees

The government has done a great job at keeping compulsory education cheap, but after secondary school, the costs go up significantly. PM Lee acknowledges this in his rally speech, bringing up a recent MOE review of tertiary fees and how they can be made more affordable.

The announced efforts focused on increasing bursary coverage for polytechnic and university courses, singling out medicine, the most expensive degree to study for.

Fees for the relatively newly opened Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) will also be slightly lowered.


1. Higher bursary coverage for polytechnic and university courses

For both polytechnic and university courses, there will be an increase in government bursaries starting 2020 (the next academic year). New and existing students will both be eligible for the changes.

Tertiary education  Bursary coverage (starting AY2020) Full course fees (estimated, before any subsidies) 
Polytechnic diploma courses Increase from 80% to 95%  $8,700 
University degree courses Increase from 50% to 75%  $24,000 to $35,000 

Currently, the bursaries are capped at 50% for universities and 80% for polytechnics. But starting the new academic year in 2020, the new coverage will go up to 75% for universities and 95% for polytechnics.

To qualify, applicants must meet either the gross monthly household or household per capita income criteria:

Gross monthly household income  Gross monthly household per capita income 
MOE post-secondary bursary $9,000 and below  $2,250 and below
Community Development Councils/Citizens’ Consultative Committees bursary $4,000 and below $1,000 and below 

Diploma courses at polytechnics

The course fees for diploma courses are fixed for all 5 polytechnics in Singapore at $2,900 per year (for Singaporeans), excluding supplementary fees for examinations, insurance, and etc. That comes up to $8,700 for the full 3 years.

At present, bursary students pay about $1,800 ($600 per year). With the new changes, they will only pay $450 ($150 per year).

Degree courses at universities

The next step of pursuing a degree is dramatically more expensive, ranging from $24,000 to $35,000, depending on the institution and course.

For example, pursuing in a computer science degree will cost about $8,000 a year. The current bursary subsidises half of that, so students will pay $4,000. With the new changes, they will only pay $2,000 a year.

Degrees and diplomas undertaken at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LASALLE College of the Arts are counted as well.


2. More financial aid, especially for medicine students

In his speech, PM Lee highlighted the medicine degree, as it is the most expensive university course in Singapore. It can cost up to $29,000 per year at National University of Singapore (NUS) and $35,000 per year at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

… That’s like, the cost for the full length of any other degree.

Not much was said about the medical bursary enhancement, except that it will be “significantly more generous”, and that moving forward, bursary students will now pay a maximum of only $5,000 per year.

Assuming fees of $35,000 per year, that’s about 85% covered. There is a whole list of scholarships and bursaries for medical studies — you can find them on the NUS and NTU financial assistance page.


3. Lowered school fees for SIT and SUSS

The last education-related update is the lowering of fees for SIT and SUSS. This was in response to the above-mentioned MOE review. PM Lee explained that SIT and SUSS do more “applied” and “industry attachments and internships”, so they can further lower their operating costs as the cohorts grow.

Fees are currently $8,000 per year, and they’ll be lowered to $7,500 per year.

$500 may seem little, but it actually adds up to $2,000 for a 4-year course.


What do you think of PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2019 education announcements? Tell us in the comments below.