Tuesday 27 May 2014

More poly grads score places in law, medicine

Growing pool of such students make it to top courses in local varsities
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 May 2014

MR JOSHUA Teo was rejected when he applied to study medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) two years ago.

But the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) graduate tried again for a place this year and, to his surprise, he was accepted. The 22-year-old, who studied biomedical informatics and engineering, is the first from his polytechnic to get into the university's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

He is also among a growing pool of top polytechnic graduates who have in recent years secured spots in law and medicine. This comes as the polytechnics are attracting brighter students with single-digit O-level scores. About 40 per cent of those who chose polytechnics qualified for junior college (JC) last year.

Back in 2003, Mr Lavanesan Swaminathan, from TP, made history by being the first polytechnic graduate to be offered a place to read law at NUS. In 2007, two students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic - Mr Soong Jun Wei and Mr Ron Ng - became the first polytechnic graduates to be accepted by NUS' medical school.

A handful of polytechnic students have since been given places each year in both degree courses, which typically admit straight-A JC students.

But this year alone, NUS has already accepted nearly 10 for medicine, and at least six for law. Of course, they are still a tiny minority compared with their JC peers in both programmes.

The medicine and law programmes at NUS admit 300 and over 200 students respectively a year.

Singapore's newest medical school at Nanyang Technological University accepted its first polytechnic graduate Russell Chuah, 21, from Singapore Polytechnic (SP), last year.

TP, which runs a law and management course, has seen 19 students accepted by NUS' law faculty since 2003. A student entered Singapore Management University's law school last year.

And every year, 10 to 20 of TP's graduates study law overseas. Course manager Looi Kwok Peng said many of its students enter university courses in business, and arts and social sciences, or become teachers. "But slightly more of them are getting into law locally now. Universities are trying to expand their pool of students," he noted.

The polytechnics estimate that at least 30 of their graduates have pursued medicine locally or abroad or are doing so. Dr Tan Tuan Lin, who oversees SP's biomedical science course, said more students hope to become doctors: "Many get straight As for O levels but they prefer the hands-on way."

A spokesman for NUS' medical school said it has accepted a "small number of outstanding polytechnic graduates" every year, over the past few years. There has been a "slight increase" in the number of such grads being offered places, she noted, adding that these students have been doing well in school.

This year, the most number of graduates from SP - five - secured places.

The admissions format that NUS introduced last year is "good" for polytechnic students, Dr Tan said. Instead of a panel interview and an essay test, they go through stations, being interviewed and tested on skills like teamwork and leadership.

"We train students to deal with challenging situations," he said. "They have a strong foundation, as they have learnt what lab technicians do, and they know signs and symptoms of diseases. Their internships are also done in clinics and hospitals."

SP graduate Raphael Ng, 20, who earned a place in medicine at NUS, said the new admissions format shows "the university is now looking for not just knowledge but also practical skills".

Ms Lim Xin Yan, 19, from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who also has a place in NUS' medical school, said: "I feel like these competitive courses are opening up to more poly students. I'm excited to start school. I've wanted to be a doctor for a long time."

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