Sunday, 25 September 2016

Private school graduates find it harder to land jobs: Graduate Employment Survey 2016

Full-time job rate and starting pay lower than those of public university grads, survey finds
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

Even as more than 70,000 Singaporeans pursue degrees and diplomas through the private education sector, a broad-based survey released yesterday showed that many of them lagged far behind their peers from public universities in the job market.

Not only do private school graduates find it harder to land jobs but, on average, they also command noticeably lower starting salaries.

This prompted Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), to remind Singaporeans that one should not pursue a degree simply because it is the default pathway - as there are other options available.

In fact, the first employment survey of private school graduates painted a sobering picture of their prospects.

The Council for Private Education (CPE), which regulates the private education industry, surveyed 4,200 students who graduated with degrees from nine private schools in 2014.

Only 58 per cent of the fresh graduates who had no prior working experience found full-time jobs within six months of completing their studies. Another 21 per cent managed to find only part-time or contract work.

The median starting salary of those with full-time jobs was $2,700 a month.

This compares poorly with the 83 per cent full-time job rate and $3,200 median gross monthly salary of the graduates from three public universities - the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) - for the same period.

If those in part-time work were included, then the job rate for NUS, NTU and SMU graduates goes up to 89 per cent.

CPE said it is looking into conducting a similar survey yearly to provide more "granular data" to help students make more informed decisions before enrolling in private schools.

Mr Ong, who spoke at a convocation ceremony at Lasalle College of the Arts yesterday afternoon, referred to the survey findings and said the median salary of private school graduates was 15 per cent lower than that of graduates from autonomous universities. Those intending to enrol in degree programmes at private schools "need to know these pragmatic but important facts".

He said the Education Ministry and CPE were looking to improve the quality of education and employment prospects for those who take the private school route, but said students should be equipped with the necessary information to make informed choices.

He noted that under the SkillsFuture initiative, the Government is opening up more varied pathways for Singaporeans. These include the Earn and Learn scheme, where graduates from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education can work and further their qualifications at the same time. The universities, too, are developing pathways for working adults.

"When you make a decision to pursue a degree, it should be after a thorough exploration of the choices and pathways available - not because a degree programme is the default pathway. A degree is but one path. Hopefully, with greater access to information, students and their families can make the best choices for themselves," said Mr Ong.

Officials from established private schools said the findings may be skewed as they were based on the employment outcomes for students from nine schools that are of varying quality.

The Singapore Institute of Management said its own survey for the class of 2014 found 73 per cent of its graduates got full-time jobs within six months. The school, which has an enrolment of 20,000 students with 16,400 locals, said "the employability of our graduates is a priority" and it has taken steps to help its graduates get good jobs fast.

Private school players weigh in on job survey
More established schools cite their own survey results, saying CPE poll should not lump institutions together
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2016

Private schools should not be lumped together when considering employment rates for the sector.

This was the response from the more established private schools, such as the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), to a survey released yesterday which found that employment rates of graduates from nine private schools compared poorly to those from public institutions.

The Council for Private Education (CPE) survey found that 58 per cent of those who graduated from nine private schools in 2014 found full-time jobs within six months of completing their studies.

This is much less than the 83 per cent for graduates from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.

The Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) said its own survey for the class of 2014 found 73 per cent of its global education graduates had full-time jobs within six months. More than half of those surveyed had two or more job offers.

It also reported an average gross monthly pay of $2,766 for graduates with full-time jobs, compared with the survey's $2,700. The median starting pay for those from the three public universities was $3,200.

SIM's global education arm, which has an enrolment of 20,000 students with 16,400 locals, said "the employability of our graduates is a priority", adding that it has been putting in place measures to enhance the employability outcomes of its graduates. For example, it provides career counselling and offers internship opportunities.

MDIS secretary-general R. Theyvendran quoted a 2014 survey done by the school which found that about eight in 10 of its students found full-time or part-time jobs six months after graduating.

He said: "It was not fair to put all the schools in one basket."

The CPE survey looked at nine schools of varying repute. In addition to the more established players such as SIM, MDIS and Curtin Education Centre, the survey included ITC School of Laws and Trent Global College of Technology and Management, which are less well known.

James Cook University Singapore, the first of two private schools to win the EduTrust Star - the highest quality mark given to private education institutions here, said its own survey of students who graduated at the end of 2013 and in 2014 found more than seven in 10 were settled in jobs within six months.

About half had salaries of between $2,001 and $3,000.

Private school graduates interviewed about the survey findings had mixed reactions. Some said the CPE's findings were reflective of the market, while others felt the 58 per cent job rate was too low.

Mr Mohammad Kader, who graduated from SIM in 2014, said he has not been able to land a full-time job since graduation.

The 26-year-old accountant, who has been in and out of temporary jobs lasting between four months and a year, said: "Companies usually prefer public university students and they are even willing to pay more for them."

SIM graduate Shahirah Khalid said she found a job before graduation. The 25-year-old, who graduated with a Bachelor of Business this year and is working as a forex broker, said: "Some of my friends are starting with a lower pay but that is expected with a private certificate. After a couple of years, the pay will rise according to how well you perform."

Job expert David Leong, who runs PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said the market is tougher now compared with two years ago, and private school graduates may find it even harder to land jobs.

Highlighting the availability of Earn and Learn programmes, he said: "My advice to polytechnic grads who don't get a place in a public university is to work first, instead of going to a private school.

"In a slowdown, employers prefer poly grads instead of those with degrees, especially if the qualifications are from less reputable universities."

* New measures to raise standards of private education in Singapore
Higher financial standards for schools; those offering degrees must take part in yearly survey
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

The private education sector is set for a major shake-up in the next two years with new measures to protect students and also encourage them to pick schools wisely.

Private education institutions (PEIs), who enrol 77,000 local students between them, will have to uphold higher financial standards. Those offering degrees will have to take part in an annual graduate employment survey.

The Committee for Private Education (CPE) - which is parked under the newly formed SkillsFuture Singapore statutory board - laid out several measures to improve the quality of private education.

The latest regulations, estimated to affect about 70 out of about 290 private schools, come as the Government opens up more pathways for Singaporeans through SkillsFuture by allowing people to work and study at the same time.

Now, private schools that offer degree programmes will be required to take part in a yearly survey to track how easily their graduates find jobs. There are currently 50 to 60 such schools.

The survey will be centrally administered by CPE. Results will be published on its website from next year.

Private schools that want to offer degrees, or courses including diplomas that lead directly to degrees, must also obtain a four-year EduTrust certification, a quality assurance award.

About 60 per cent of existing schools with such programmes already meet this mark, while the rest must apply for it by June next year and attain it by June 2018.

Fresh school-leavers joining certain courses will now also need to meet academic entry requirements. Existing PEIs have up to next June to revise their admission criteria.

But schools will also have flexibility to admit mature students with relevant work or learning experience.

Private schools will also need to meet minimum financial standards - a paid-up capital of at least $100,000 will now be required of new schools, to ensure they are properly resourced. Existing schools will also need to meet a minimum credit rating by next June, to show that they have healthy finances.

Mr Brandon Lee, director-general (private education) of SkillsFuture Singapore, said yesterday: "As the sector matures, we need to ensure that institutions continue to have sound foundations on which to operate and deliver the quality of training that students expect.

"The new measures are aimed at doing so, and will provide additional safeguards for students who choose to enrol with PEIs.

"We also hope that the enhanced information transparency will be useful in helping students make more informed decisions."

Singapore Association for Private Education president Lee Kwok Cheong said the new standards are "not unreasonable". "Any company which wants to offer degree-level programmes must put in more effort to invest in quality courses."

Existing students will not be affected even if their schools do not meet the new standards. They will be allowed to finish their courses.

By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

• Private schools that offer degree programmes will need to take part in a yearly graduate employment survey administered by the Committee for Private Education (CPE).

• Such schools, and those offering other programmes like diplomas that lead directly to degrees, must also obtain a four-year EduTrust certification. Existing schools that offer such programmes and do not have this award must apply for it by next June and attain it by June 2018.

• Fresh school-leavers joining private schools will need to meet minimum entry requirements. For instance, those applying for degree programmes must have at least an A-level certificate, a polytechnic diploma or a qualification that provides direct entry.

• To ensure that new schools are properly resourced, a minimum paid-up capital of $100,000 will be required of them with immediate effect.

Existing schools also need to show that their finances are healthy by meeting credit-rating benchmarks by June next year.

• From now, only schools which have at least a four-year registration period with CPE can apply for the EduTrust mark. Currently there are no such restrictions.

New measures set to spark exit of more private schools
Established schools and niche players expected to remain viable, say observers
By Amelia Teng and Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

More private schools that offer run-of-the-mill degrees are expected to exit as new measures to tighten the quality of the sector take effect.

Those that remain will most likely be the more established ones that offer relevant courses and continue to be more viable as businesses, or niche players that plug gaps in the market, said observers.

Bigger players such as SIM Global Education, Kaplan, Management Development Institute of Singapore and PSB Academy said the new regulations are a step towards greater transparency, academic quality and accountability to students.

Mr Lee Kwok Cheong, president of the Singapore Association for Private Education, said the number of private schools has declined in the last few years - a trend that looks to continue with the new rules.

There are now 291 private education institutions (PEIs), compared with about 1,000 in 2009.

"There are already requirements, but it is quite clear that the new policies go a step further - focusing on raising the minimum standards for admission, financial strength and capability of PEIs," said Mr Lee.

Ms Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said: "These measures will boost public confidence in PEIs and help to dispel the perception that PEIs are inferior to public education institutions."

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said smaller players that may not have the financial resources or do not have links to reputable overseas universities would be most affected.

"Those that offer generic business degrees may also lose out in a competitive market," he added.

Mr Lee said private schools must also see themselves as part of the SkillsFuture journey - a national drive to encourage Singaporeans to take up job-oriented skills. For instance, small players must "focus on a niche and be good at it".

Ms Phua said: "As the private education market continues to further consolidate, market forces will influence more PEIs to be even more sensitive to the gaps for training for jobs of the future. As long as the offerings are relevant and in demand, there is always a place for small boutique quality PEIs."

The new rules come at a time of falling private student numbers due to the expansion of local universities and fewer work opportunities for foreign students. There were 77,000 local students and 29,000 foreigners in private schools last year, compared with about 100,000 local students and about 35,000 foreigners four years ago.

The changes will lead to higher course fees at at least one private school here. Aventis School of Management, which is preparing to submit its EduTrust application by the year end, said its course fees are "expected to increase... due to higher operating cost in administering the EduTrust framework".

About 60 per cent of its over 300 students are on degree programmes. The school's director, Ms Joyce Chew, called for more funding to support PEIs. "This will allow us to keep our course fees affordable," she said.

Changes aim to help students make better choices: Experts
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

The latest moves to tighten private education - such as requiring schools which offer degrees to report their graduate employment data - are meant to help students be more discerning and make better choices, said experts.

They are also in line with the SkillsFuture philosophy - that it is better to gain work-relevant skills through other pathways instead of hankering after a degree.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said the changes ensure that private courses, especially degree programmes, are of some quality, and that schools are not just "out to make a quick buck".

The quality of private schools varies, from the reputable to dodgy operators, he said, adding: "Students take these degree courses expecting returns in their job prospects... but some of them find to their horror that they're not employable."

These courses can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 a year.

A pilot survey by the Council for Private Education, now known as the Committee for Private Education, showed private students had a harder time finding jobs compared with their peers from public universities, and commanded less pay.

The results, released last month, showed that just 58 per cent of private university students found full- time work within six months of completing their studies. Their median starting pay was $2,700 a month.

This compares with the 83 per cent full-time job rate and $3,200 median gross monthly pay of graduates from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.

Ms Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the new measures are "consistent with the direction of the SkillsFuture movement which stresses mastery of skills over the mere pursuit of degrees".

"It should not be improbable for the Government to engage constructively with PEIs (private educational institutions) as the latter can be more nimble and expedient in meeting diverse lifelong learning needs."

There are also more options now for progression, through SkillsFuture schemes such as Earn and Learn, for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates to work and learn at the same time, and modular courses being developed by the local universities.

Said Associate Professor Tan: "The lure of a degree is still strong, but the Government is trying to encourage people to consider other options... A degree is no longer a guarantee of income or job stability, because of factors like technological disruption.

"There's no point in going for a degree that has little regard among employers and will lead to disappointment."

Third-year Temasek Polytechnic student Meredith Sim, 19, said she might take up a business degree in a private university after working for one to two years.

The hospitality and tourism management student said the graduate employment survey would help her know "the job and pay prospects after earning the qualification".

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