Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Singapore University of Social Sciences to champion lifelong learning

Its experience in adult education ties in with need to hone skills throughout lifetime: Ong Ye Kung
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 May 2017

A significant piece of the higher education puzzle fell in place yesterday, when Singapore officially welcomed its sixth university - an institution very unlike the other five.

With its background in adult education and its partnerships with industry, the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) will be a champion of lifelong learning.

Previously called SIM University, SUSS will be "clearly differentiated" from the other universities, said Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung in Parliament yesterday.

Setting out the backdrop under which SUSS was being brought under the ambit of his ministry, Mr Ong said the Government would stick by its pledge to raise the university participation rate of each age group to 40 per cent by 2020.

This would be a further rise from the current situation, when the Ministry of Education expects to admit about 15,900 Singaporean students into publicly funded universities in August , with a cohort participation rate of about 35 per cent.

But he stressed that the ability to keep pace with the economy's needs, and not just having a degree, is "what helps a person earn a living".

At a time when information can be Googled, he said, "skills are what carry a premium, and skills need to be honed throughout our lifetime".

This played directly to the strengths of SUSS, which Mr Ong said has been providing quality education to adult learners for years. Many of them had to juggle studies with other commitments.

The university used technology to deliver its programmes to students. The change in its status could take it to another level.

SUSS will be able to expand its annual intake of full-time degree students from 580 to 1,000 in a few years, its president Cheong Hee Kiat told The Straits Times. It will also increase offerings for its 13,200 part-time students.

As a publicly funded university, SUSS will be able to tap more resources from the Government, which in turn will guide its strategic development to meet national objectives in education.

SUSS will also set itself apart through its strong social focus.

It will build a niche in fields such as early childhood education. All its full-time students will also have to execute a social project and champion a cause.

Unlike most other universities, SUSS will develop the applied degree pathway, said Mr Ong. It will also work with SkillsFuture Singapore Agency to develop courses to support industry.

This will complement the work of the Singapore Institute of Technology, which focuses on applied degrees in science and technology.

There will be strong inter-lacing of theoretical knowledge with real-life application, said Mr Ong.

Ten MPs spoke on the subject, with most welcoming the initiative.

Ms Denise Phua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said that at a time when most tertiary institutions are playing catch-up in online and blended learning, SUSS is already way ahead in digital education and catering to a learner population in a fast-paced work setting.

"SUSS presents an exciting opportunity to paint and deliver the vision of what future learning for Singapore's working adults can be," she said.

Singapore University of Social Sciences to offer more full-time degree courses, places
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 May 2017

SIM University, recently renamed the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), is set to ramp up its full-time degree courses and places, with numbers rising from the current annual intake of 580 students to 1,000 in a few years.

The university, which yesterday became Singapore's sixth autonomous university, will expand the number of places for its popular courses such as business analytics and early childhood education.

It will also add more social science-related degrees in areas such as urban studies and environmental studies. But even as it expands its full-time degree offerings and places, it also aims to be the university of choice for working adults.

SUSS president Cheong Hee Kiat said that, despite the growing number of full-time students, which stands at 890, the university's mainstay is the army of 13,200 part-time students enrolled in 60 part-time courses, ranging from counselling to accounting.

The university receives more than 5,000 applications a year from working adults and mature students who want to pursue a degree.

Communications, logistics and supply chain management, early childhood education, social work, and building and project management are among the courses that continue to draw students.

More than 400 people applied for the 60 places in its law school, which began running its courses in January to train criminal and family lawyers.

Professor Cheong expects demand for its part-time degree courses to remain healthy over the next few years, partly because of the SkillsFuture initiative, which encourages workers to update their skills. "The majority of them want a degree to further themselves in their careers or to make a switch. The university offers them a flexible path to work and study for a degree at the same time," he added.

He said most of the part-time students have three to five years of work experience and attain their degrees in four to five years.

With a foundation laid by SUSS' predecessors - SIM University and the Open University Degree Programme - he said it has used online learning to let working adults progress at their own pace.

He said SUSS will also expand its offerings for adult learners. It will work with the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency and companies to develop industry-relevant courses and create content that supports the upgrading of industries.

SUSS' other area of focus - social sciences - will not be confined to those in the field. Prof Cheong said there will be an infusion of social sciences in other degrees such as business or engineering.

"In civil engineering, for example, besides the technical aspects of putting up a new bridge or building, we want our students to consider the social impact as well. How will it impact the people living in the vicinity?"

Students interviewed said they hoped SUSS will continue to ensure that its courses are relevant and recognised by the industry. Many of its 60 courses are accredited by professional bodies.

The students welcomed the move to convertSUSS into an autonomous institution, saying this will boost recognition of its degrees.

Full-time accountancy student Tan Jun Cheng, 24, hoped that with more funding and resources, SUSS will be able to offer more programmes. "I would like to see more entrepreneurship programmes and stints that will give us more industry exposure."

Smaller cohorts but more choices in varsities: Ong Ye Kung
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 9 May 2017

Singapore can expect more choices in higher education even as student cohort sizes fall, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

"Expanding our higher education pathways is not incompatible with decreasing cohort sizes. In fact, as our manpower and talent base reduces, it is even more important to uncover everyone's potential to the fullest through more diverse education pathways," he told Parliament.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh had asked how the planned reduction in the number of junior colleges (JCs) would affect the supply of A-level holders to universities.

Mr Ong acknowledged the shrinking population of students in each age group would affect the number of A-level holders, as well as polytechnic graduates, going to university. But this will be cushioned by the rise in the university participation rate of each age group from 35 per cent this year to 40 per cent in 2020.

Still, the number of students admitted to local autonomous universities will fall 10 to 15 per cent by 2025. This year, about 19,000 students are expected to be admitted.

Mr Ong added: "Because university education is more specialised, there is also less need for critical mass. The Singapore University of Technology and Design, for example, is doing very well as a university with a unique focus on design."

Dr Goh also asked if A-level education will "become a little bit more elitist because of the closing down of neighbourhood JCs".

Mr Ong said the cut-off point to enter a JC will remain the same, even though the number of students in each cohort is shrinking.

"We have to put in even more effort to make sure it's more diverse so that everyone can fulfil their potential," he added. "You look at cinemas now - (they are) getting smaller and fewer. But each cinema is showing a lot more titles. So I think it's the same logic. Falling cohort sizes and increasing diversity are not incompatible notions."

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