Tuesday, 3 May 2016

1 in 3 local university students admitted in 2015 is a polytechnic student

Rise in line with diploma holders' aspirations to boost their skills
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

One in three local university students admitted last year is a polytechnic graduate, as the public university landscape expands and diploma holders seek to upgrade themselves.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has revealed that last year's local university intake had the highest ever proportion of polytechnic graduates at nearly 34 per cent, up from 24.7 per cent in 2011.

The figures are based on the student intakes of publicly funded undergraduate programmes at the six local universities. They are the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design, SIM University (UniSIM) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

Educators said the greater proportion of poly graduates in local universities is in line with the rising aspirations of diploma holders who want a university degree.

A spokesman for Ngee Ann Polytechnic said poly graduates have more options today. They can work in an area related to their course, go on to other careers or further their studies. "Ultimately, we want our students to have a passion for their chosen profession and to achieve skills mastery," she said.

One in five poly graduates won a place in a degree course this year. Four years ago, it was 15 per cent - about one in seven.

Education policy expert Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education noted that students' aspirations are linked to "the job market's bias in favour of degree holders". "So it's more for practical reasons than personal interest that most diploma holders want to gain a competitive edge."

While the Government is taking steps to value the skills and on-the-job performance of diploma holders, people's mindsets will take time to change, he said.

The median monthly starting salary for polytechnic graduates last year was $2,100, and $3,300 for university graduates.


With the expansion of SIT and UniSIM, more university places have opened up for diploma holders. These two institutions offer longer and more immersive work attachment programmes.

Traditionally, junior college is seen as the most secure route to a degree - previous years' figures show that more than 70 per cent of A-level holders enter the local universities each year. But increasingly, a significant proportion of students who enter the polytechnics do so out of choice, and not because they do not qualify for junior college.

MOE said the six universities received about 39,000 applications from A-level holders, and close to 31,000 applications from polytechnic graduates last year. Each applicant usually goes for two, if not three, different institutions.

Polytechnic students said they are glad the local universities are opening up to them.

Mr Dylan Tan, 23, a mechanical engineering graduate from Singapore Polytechnic, said his sustainable infrastructure engineering (building services) course at SIT is a good continuation from his poly modules.

He was "very relieved" to get a place at SIT. "I don't have to worry about going to a private university or going overseas and being away from home," he said.

Ms Naseera Hidayahtullah, 21, a second-year accounting student at UniSIM, said she wanted to further her education after getting a business management diploma from Nanyang Polytechnic, but also wanted work experience. She chose UniSIM for its six-month work stint during term time. (At other universities, internships are usually during the holidays.)

"The practical training is part of the curriculum and it prepares us for employment," she said.

Ms Lena Tan, 20, who has a law and management diploma from Temasek Polytechnic, is glad to have clinched a place at SMU law school. The first-year undergraduate said: "If you want to do law, you need a professional degree.

"I knew my chances were very slim especially because I'm competing with top-notch JC students. I'm happy that we are given the same opportunities."

More poly grads in top degree courses here
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

These days, you don't have to be a junior college (JC) student to get into competitive undergraduate programmes such as law.

In the last five years, more students are taking the polytechnic route to these professional degree courses offered by the local universities.

The number of poly graduates in undergraduate courses like law and medicine has grown slightly, said a Ministry of Education spokesman.

These two courses typically take in A-level leavers with a string of As, or poly graduates with near perfect or perfect grade point averages of 4.

Last year, the law and medicine courses each took in seven poly graduates, up from just two and one respectively in 2011.

Poly students now make up about 2 per cent of both courses' cohorts, from 0.4 to 0.5 per cent previously.

In the same time period, the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University (SMU) admitted 253 students from polys into their accountancy courses, up from 127 before.

NUS' department of architecture at its school of design and environment had about 40 poly graduates in its intake last year, double the 20 or so five years ago.

Mr Looi Kwok Peng, course manager of Temasek Polytechnic's law and management course, said: "The desire to get into the local law schools is not new, but the success rate seems to be increasing.

"Until very recently, the law schools did not publish any indicative grade point average for diploma-holders, like they did for JC results," he said.

Poly students told The Straits Times they knew it would not be easy for them to get into these competitive courses, but were more hopeful after seeing some of their seniors secure places.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Bryan Lim, who is graduating with a business studies diploma this year with a grade point average of 3.95, has applied for law at NUS and SMU.

The 20-year-old, who has received an offer to read law at King's College London, said: "I know it's challenging, but I'm not too worried as I have seen seniors from my course get into law school."

His senior Nicholas Yue, 23, who read business information technology in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, earned a spot in NUS Law in 2014 with a grade point average of 3.8.

He had qualified for JC with a L1R5 score of 11, but chose poly as he felt it would prepare him better for work. Still, he was surprised to get an interview for law school.

"It's good that the choices for polytechnic graduates are not so limited and they can enter university," he said. "Making that choice after the O levels - that's quite a young age to decide."

Ms Pavani Jeyathasan, 20, a first-year accountancy student at SMU, knew JC was not for her as she preferred to focus on her interest in business and accountancy.

Said the Nanyang Polytechnic accountancy and finance graduate: "I didn't think about the odds of going to university through the poly route. I just worked hard."

Republic Polytechnic biomedical sciences graduate Kenneth Gwee, 22, who is in his first year reading medicine at NUS, said: "I did aim for a degree but I didn't think I'd make it this far to medicine. It was my goal and dream ever since primary school to be a doctor."

New degrees add to SIT's draw
2,500 vying for 285 places in new health science courses; total applications up 35%
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 May 2016

The Singapore Institute of Technology's (SIT) new degree offerings in health sciences have boosted its applications this year.

In all, 13,000 A-level and polytechnic diploma holders have applied for the 2,400 places in 42 degree courses on offer this year.

The total number of applications is 35 per cent higher than that last year. Of the total, 2,500 are vying for the 285 places in the five new health science degree courses - physiotherapy, occupational therapy, diagnostic radiography, radiation therapy and nursing.

A new joint degree course in food technology with Massey University of New Zealand has also drawn keen interest.

SIT director of admissions Kelly Koh said the health science degrees are in areas where there is a huge demand for specialists, given the rapidly ageing population of Singapore. "The graduates from these fields will have good job prospects, as there is a critical need for people in these areas."

He added that of the 13,000 applicants, 5,500 have been shortlisted for the aptitude-based admission process that SIT uses.

"Through interviews and portfolio assessments, we look for attributes and qualities, beyond academic performance, to assess if a student is suited for a particular field."

Students go through two interviews and employers are invited to sit on the interview panel to select those for courses such as the hospitality degree programme.

Shortlisted applicants for the health science courses will be put through multiple mini-interviews. They will be given scenarios and asked how they will respond to such situations.

This is similar to the processes used by the medical schools at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

Mr Koh said: "We are on the lookout for students with qualities such as compassion, empathy and the ability to communicate with people."

Students taking up health sciences - like students enrolled in other courses - will spend eight to 10 months on attachment in various healthcare settings to hone their skills through practice.

The practice-oriented approach will be enhanced by the fact that many of the course lecturers are practitioners drawn from hospitals. They will hold joint appointments at the hospitals and the university.

Polytechnic graduates and A-level holders eyeing health science degree courses - such as in physiotherapy and occupational therapy - noted that they would have had to go abroad previously.

Now, such courses are available at a local university.

Ms Deborah Lim, 24, an A-level holder who wants to switch from sports management - she works in a gym - to physiotherapy, said she was inspired by her aunt, who is in the field.

"I find it a very interesting field and had thought of going to Australia or Britain... but my parents could not afford it," she said.

"Now, if given a place at SIT, I will be able to study for the degree at a fraction of the price."

SUTD taking in record 467 students
It's a 20% increase from last year's intake of 386; about 40% of those admitted this year are females
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 12 May 2016

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) will take in 467 students this year, a record high for the institution.

The figure, a 20 per cent increase from last year's intake of 386, is close to its intake capacity of 500.

Previously, its intakes had ranged from 280 to 340, raising questions about whether it was being too selective.

SUTD, which took in its first batch of students in 2012, said then that it was going for "quality, not quantity" because of its rigorous curriculum, developed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

It received 3,055 applications this year, an 18.4 per cent increase from last year. About 40 per cent of its intake this year are females.

Besides having good grades, applicants must write a 500-word essay about themselves.

They are also invited to submit portfolios, videos and personal blogs to support their applications.

Shortlisted applicants then face a panel interview.

SUTD president, Professor Thomas Magnanti, said: "This is our fifth batch and I am very heartened by the record number.

"We look forward to nurturing them over the next 31/2 years into becoming holistic engineers and architects who identify and solve society's problems not just from a technological aspect but also with an eye for design, relevance and usability."

In response to queries, an SUTD spokesman said that it looks for "bright and well-rounded students with a passion for technology and design".

She said the rise in the number of applications could also be due to its outreach efforts, ranging from school visits and workshops to its open house.

Other factors include its expanded overseas programmes and the positive employment outcomes of its pioneer graduates last year.

SUTD, Singapore's fourth university which partners MIT and China's Zhejiang University, offers specialisation in four areas: architecture and sustainable design; engineering product development; engineering systems and design; and information systems technology and design.

Some new undergraduates said they were attracted by its broad- based approach, which requires students of all disciplines to take common subjects such as physics and humanities.

Mr Leong Hei Kern, 22, who graduated from Singapore Polytechnic in 2013 with a grade point average of 3.99 out of 4, said the common curriculum helps students to understand each other's specialisations.

"Your classmate could be an architect or engineer in the future," said the Public Service Commission scholar, who added that working together across specialisations can help to create products that are both user-friendly and functional.

Former Raffles Institution student Afiffah Ab Ghapar said: "I like that architecture is taught in a technologically-driven way."

The 18-year-old, who scored six As in her A levels, spent a week in January attached to architecture students at SUTD as part of a job shadowing programme organised by the Building and Construction Authority.

"Design is not just about aesthetics; there could be other aspects that require skills like coding and software programming," she said. "It's challenging, but it made me think that if I had that knowledge it would make me stand out."

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