Sunday 5 May 2013

Many options for poly grads: PM Lee

They could work for a few years first or start a business, says PM Lee
By Robin Chan And Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 4 May 2013

POLYTECHNIC students have many good options after graduating and need not just aim for a university degree, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

They can work for a few years or start a business, which Mr Lee points out are paths that can prove beneficial later in life.

"You will gain experience and understand yourself better, and then be better able to decide what the next step will be. These life lessons will complement your polytechnic education and help you to go further in life," he told about 480 faculty members, students and alumni of Ngee Ann Polytechnic at their 50th anniversary dinner.

One of them is Mr Darran Nathan, its top student in 2000. He was given the opportunity to study at any university in the world but chose to start his own business.

His company, Progeniq, which he co-founded in 2005, helps digital animators speed up the production of visual effects in movies.

Mr Nathan, now 33, has no plans on pursuing a degree in the immediate future. "You learn a lot through experience... the process itself is an education," he told The Straits Times.

Polytechnic lecturers contacted agreed with Mr Lee. Professor Wang Jianguo, director of the engineering school at Republic Polytechnic, said many graduates choose to work, even when offered a place at universities, because they land good jobs with their diplomas.

Graduating from polytechnic is thus the start of better things in life, said PM Lee.

Each year, about 40 per cent of a student cohort attend a polytechnic. Of those who get their diplomas, 15 per cent go to a local university each year, according to official figures.

To meet demand, 3,000 additional university places will be made available each year by 2020.

But PM Lee expressed the hope that those who go on to university do it not just to have a paper qualification, but because they are interested in the subject or find it relevant for their future plans.

The praise for polytechnics comes from international investors and education experts as well, said Mr Lee.

The investors say polytechnics give Singapore an added competitive advantage, especially in manufacturing, while educators from around the world have come to study the polytechnic model here.

"(Polytechnics) provide a high quality, practice- oriented technical training for jobs. They lay a strong academic foundation especially in technical subjects like mathematics and science, for those who go on to further their studies.

"They also imbue in our students a values-based education to nurture good citizens and caring Singaporeans," he said.

Last night, Ngee Ann also announced its fourth 10-year strategic plan that will see it forge closer ties with companies and introduce more overseas programmes for its students.

As part of the plan, it is looking at introducing a project component during internships.

The projects will be based on real problems faced by the companies that take them in and, where possible, project teams will comprise students from different disciplines.

Said Ms Jeanne Liew, registrar and senior director at Ngee Ann: "A lot of problems in the workplace are very complex and you need multi-disciplinary teams to come together and solve them."

PM Lee said the Government would give the polytechnic its fullest support in its next phase.

More broadly, the Government is already investing $7 billion in polytechnics over the next five years to expand campuses, build facilities, introduce courses and improve the quality of technical education, he added.

By doing it, it will ensure the polytechnics "continue to produce graduates with a wide range of skills and strengths which complement workers emerging from other educational pathways".

At the same time, the Government is improving the education system across all levels, including pre-schools, where it is starting a pilot project of Government-run pre-schools.

Among the 25 alumni who received an award yesterday for their contributions to society was Mr Nathan, Creative Technology founder Sim Wong Hoo, 58, and film-maker Boo Junfeng, 29.

University degree 'not vital for success'
Getting good jobs after leaving school more important: Khaw
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 5 May 2013

Singaporeans do not need to be university graduates to be successful, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

What is more important is that they get good jobs after leaving school, Mr Khaw told some 160 students and young adults in an Our Singapore Conversation dialogue.

"If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless," he added.

Mr Khaw was responding to a participant who said the Government should set aside more university places for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates.

Said Mr Khaw: "Can you have a whole country where 100 per cent are graduates? I am not so sure.

"What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment."

The minister said there were countries that upgraded their polytechnics to universities but regretted doing so, after the graduates were unable to find good jobs.

Housing prices also emerged as a topic yesterday, with one participant, 26-year-old Jeremy Neo, who is between jobs, asking about measures to contain inflation.

Mr Khaw acknowledged that housing prices remain a concern, but he gave the assurance that new Housing Board flats will always remain affordable and accessible.

Besides tertiary education and HDB prices, Mr Khaw also fielded questions on the influx of foreigners and rekindling the community spirit in HDB estates during the 45-minute session organised by the Sembawang constituency office.

One participant, ITE student Chia Weng Kit, 17, said he was ambivalent about the idea of having more university places for ITE and polytechnic students.

"What is more important is how hard we work, so it depends on us," he said.

Varsity education not for everyone

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan's remark that one need not be a university graduate to be successful sparked a host of reactions, ranging from outrage to amusement ("University degree 'not vital for success'"; May 5).

Without second-guessing Mr Khaw's intentions, let me approach it from an educator's point of view. There are two key points that people in higher education and governments worldwide are trying to make.

First, it is not possible to create university places for everyone because this would devalue the degrees offered.

Consider an extreme case where everyone is able to get a university degree. Are there enough jobs for every graduate? Don't forget that places in university programmes are driven by industry demand.

Second, while a university degree definitely has many purposes, one of which is training for a profession, it may not be valuable for everyone.

While most people would like to get a university degree, they have to ask themselves if it is worth it, not just in terms of money but also the time spent.

If, for example, a person struggled to complete high school, it is highly likely that he would have a tougher time in university. In that case, wouldn't he be better off looking at more practical options that allow him to start making a living earlier?

A degree and one's grades contribute only so much to one's success in life. The rest comes from social and communication skills, and being street-smart, in equal measure.

So, before seeking a university degree, the important question to ask is: Do you have the rest of the qualities to make the best of whatever education you desire?

Rajesh Piplani (Dr)
ST Forum, 29 May 2013


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