SINGAPOREANS are flocking to study in the United States, drawn by the weaker US dollar and high-ranking universities.
More than 4,300 of them were enrolled in institutions there last year, the highest figure in 10 years.
Tellingly, the universities with the most Singaporean students are among the most prestigious. They include Stanford, Harvard, Cornell and Berkeley.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat told The Straits Times: 'The number of Singaporeans who are accepted into top universities around the world is an affirmation of the quality of the education we offer in our schools.'
The figures were released by the Institute of International Education, which tracks how many foreign students there are in the US. They showed that the number of Singaporeans studying there grew by 7 per cent last year.
About half are undergraduates, while nearly 40 per cent are on postgraduate programmes. The remainder are on exchange schemes or professional courses.
On Tuesday, Mr Heng signed an agreement with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to collaborate on education. He said: 'We are proud of our students who have worked hard and seized the opportunities that our education system has given to them.'
US Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said the high number of Singaporeans studying in the US reflects the fact that US-Singapore relations 'have never been better'.
Ms Karen Kaylor, director of the US Education Information Centre in Singapore, said record numbers of Singaporeans are choosing to study in the US because the tuition fees offer value for money: 'The US dollar is low and Singapore students want brand-name degrees and the US has many highly ranked universities.'
The US has over 700,000 foreign students, more than any other nation.
Added Ms Kaylor: 'Admission deans of top-tier universities recognise the first-class education system that Singapore has and are keen to receive Singapore students.'
Attending a US university generally costs between US$30,000 and US$65,000 (S$37,500 to S$81,000) a year in tuition and living costs, depending on where it is and whether it is a state school or private. Ms Kaylor said that although most Singaporeans make a beeline for top-tier institutions, some have been choosing specialist liberal arts colleges or art schools in recent years.
Polytechnic graduate Clarice Chang, 21, was planning to study in Australia, but has since decided to switch to the US. 'At the moment it is such a bargain compared to Australia and the United Kingdom.'
For national serviceman Brandon Tan, 21, what matters most is the university's reputation. He wants to study at Stanford or one of the Ivy League colleges. 'The US dollar is low, but still my parents will be spending a chunk of their savings on my education in the US. I want a degree that will be worth its weight.
'You just have to look at the worldwide university rankings. American universities dominate the tables.'
These tables include the Times Higher Education ranking, in which US schools claimed 75 of the top 200 places last year.
Some Singaporean students are also eyeing the job opportunities that an American university education could bring.
Mr Tan wants to study finance and hopes to work for a bank in the US before returning home. 'I know with the US economy suffering, I may be hoping for too much,' he said. 'But it is a fact that if you have a top-notch university degree and work there for a couple of years, you can command a much higher salary back home in Singapore.'
Mr Heng said he hopes more Singaporean overseas students will return home after they graduate. He added: 'For those who may find opportunities outside of Singapore, we also hope that they will continue to keep Singapore in their hearts, and contribute to the progress of Singapore, wherever they might be.
'We will continue to ensure that our education system provides opportunities for all our students to maximise their potential and compete internationally in various fields, and not just in academic fields.'