Thursday 30 August 2012

Economy can support more graduates: Lawrence Wong

Jump in university places won't lead to unemployed grads, say leaders
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

THE move to substantially raise university places will not undermine the value of a degree or lead to a glut of graduates, government leaders said yesterday.

Figures show the economy is already able to support a fairly large number of university degree holders, said Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong.

Manpower Ministry figures indicate that close to half of Singapore residents in the 25 to 29 age group hold degrees, and 44 per cent of those in the same age group earn at least $3,000 a month, which could be taken as a proxy for graduate-level jobs.

The demand for graduates is likely to rise further as Singapore needs a highly skilled workforce to drive its future economy, he added.

One sign of this is how professional, managerial and executive type jobs are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, going from 27 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent last year.

"Going forward, clearly we can accommodate more university graduates," he said at a press conference to announce details of a plan to expand university places.

But Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was also there, said Singaporeans should not see the expansion of university places as an opportunity for a paper chase. It should be a chance for "our people to deepen their learning, to upgrade and to seize new opportunities".

The assurance came after many expressed surprise at the generous increase in university places announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday.

By 2020, he said, the government will add another 3,000 undergraduate places a year. This will raise the university participation rate of each cohort from the current 27 per cent to 40 per cent, or from the current 13,000 places a year to 16,000.

The increase will be achieved by expanding programmes run by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM). They will offer more applied, practice-oriented ones.

These recommendations, submitted by a university review committee led by Mr Wong, have been accepted by the Government.

The 40 per cent figure does not include Singaporeans in part-time degree courses and those who head overseas or pursue degrees through private schools.

In fact, as Mr Wong pointed out, if students in part-time degree programmes were included, the cohort participation rate through publicly funded places will go up to 50 per cent.

While students and parents were cheered by the news, some asked if more university places would lead to underemployment or unemployment of graduates.

Some experts noted that in 1990, only 15 per cent of a cohort went to university. The new 40 per cent rate, they said, will put Singapore ahead of other Asian economies such as Hong Kong and South Korea. It will also bring it close to the level of Britain, where degree holders are finding it hard to land jobs.

Mr David Leong, managing director of human resources firm People Worldwide Consulting, said the Government must plan carefully to ensure SIT and UniSIM produce a different type of graduate. "Employers appreciate graduates who are job-ready and can hit the ground running."

SIT to be full-fledged university by 2014
Work-cum-study scheme a feature of its autonomous varsity blueprint
By Stacey Chia and Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

THE Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) will become an autonomous university by 2014.

When that happens, it will go beyond its current two-year model to offer three- and four-year degree courses.

It will also offer its own degrees - on top of the degrees from its partner universities - and run a cooperative education programme which will require students to alternate between semesters of full-time study and relevant paid work.

SIT's blueprint for conversion into a full-fledged university was announced yesterday by its president-designate Tan Thiam Soon in a press conference held at the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Buona Vista.

SIT was marked as one of two new universities - the other being SIM University - to add places for Singapore's degree hopefuls.

As the Republic's fifth and sixth universities, the two schools are expected to provide the bulk of the 3,000 additional places yearly, and raise the cohort participation rate from the current 27 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020.

The cohort participation rate refers to the percentage of students in an age group that enters university.

Currently, SIT runs degrees such as in chemical engineering and interior design offered by its 10 overseas partners, including the Technical University of Munich and University of Glasgow.

These are two-year programmes catering to mostly polytechnic upgraders. More than 90 per cent of its students are from the polytechnics.

"It's not about putting out a new degree programme, it's really about looking... way beyond the next few years at sectors that we know will have demand for highly trained manpower," said Professor Tan.

Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, who led the committee that looked into expanding university places, said SIT was picked to offer the applied degree pathway because it already had several elements of such a model.

These include having close links with the industry. Last year, there were 34 industry partners sponsoring scholarships for 12 per cent of its students.

MOE noted in a press statement yesterday that SIT's current programme offerings with partner universities already have a "strong applied element", such as in engineering and allied health.

When asked if polytechnic students will take to the cooperative programme requiring them to combine work and study, Prof Tan said such an education is not the same as a work attachment.

He said that for the programme, employers and work experiences of the students will be carefully selected to ensure they build on what is taught in class.

Mr Wong said that although some students raised concerns that the cooperative education would make their courses longer, they realised it was "not so much of a trade-off" when its value was pointed out to them.

"When you explain to students what a co-op programme entails and it is not just an extended internship... they realise that this adds value to their experience and later to their ability to get a good job," he said.

Full-time degree courses for UniSIM students
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

STUDENTS who apply to the new full-time degree programmes at SIM University (UniSIM) will be able to choose between day and evening classes.

The programmes will be designed to be modular to facilitate interaction between the university's younger students in the new programme, and older students in its part-time courses, said UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat.

Since it started in 2006, the privately-owned UniSIM has offered only part-time degree courses for working adults, but soon they will also have publicly funded, full-time degree programmes.

These and other details about UniSIM's plans were announced at a press conference held yesterday at the Ministry of Education's headquarters in Buona Vista.

The news follows Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement on Sunday that the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and UniSIM will be Singapore's fifth and sixth universities.

Together, the two schools will add the bulk of the 3,000 extra university places every year.

Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, who headed the committee to look into expanding university places, said at the press conference that UniSIM was selected for its "strong industry linkages" and good track record.

He said that there were advantages to using both SIT and UniSIM to spearhead the new applied degree model.

The minister said that SIT's strengths lie in science and technology areas, whereas UniSIM's strengths were in non-science and technology fields, such as logistics and supply-chain management.

Professor Cheong said it would take time to finalise details of its new full-time programmes, but that the university would adopt an open admission policy that takes into account work experience and talents.

A prospective student should also show passion for the fields that they wish to study besides having good grades, he added.

UniSIM currently offers 55 academic programmes to more than 12,000 students.

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