Monday 30 October 2017

SkillsFuture Series: Universities, polytechnics and ITE to train 50,000 annually in eight priority and emerging skills areas

Higher learning institutes to train more adults
Universities, polys and ITE to take in 50,000 trainees a year by 2020
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017

A major revamp of how working adults are trained for the new economy is under way, with more courses, more funding and a more significant role for Singapore's institutes of higher learning (IHLs).

From an initial 10,000, universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education will take in 50,000 trainees annually for a new series of subsidised bite-sized modules by 2020.

Total training capacity for the scheme, known as SkillsFuture Series, will also grow from 440,000 hours now to 2.2 million hours over the same period.

The Ministry of Education is pumping in $70 million towards this effort over the next three years, with IHLs expected to spend $40 million a year on the SkillsFuture Series by 2020, compared to less than $5 million now.

For a start, each institute will focus on one of eight emerging areas of growth. They include data analytics, which will come under the National University of Singapore, finance (Singapore Management University) and entrepreneurship (Ngee Ann Polytechnic).

More than 400 courses, averaging 25 hours each, have been lined up to kick off the SkillsFuture Series.

The programmes will be delivered as short modules, making them easier for working adults to take. They will be subsidised up to 70 per cent for Singaporeans and permanent residents. The rest of the fee can be paid using the $500 SkillsFuture credit given to every Singaporean above the age of 25 from last year onwards.

Announcing this yesterday, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said the institutions will take the lead in their sector of focus. They will ensure that there are enough training places and programmes to meet the needs of industries.

While the move is a major transformation for the IHLs, it is a necessary one, he said.

Training provided by employers and private operators have become two key pillars of the Continuing Education and Training (CET) landscape, but the institutes of higher learning have lagged behind, he said at the launch of the Lifelong Learning Festival at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability.

IHLs account for just 8 per cent of CET currently, excluding programmes which may be more academic in nature such as part-time diplomas, master's and PhDs.

"It is a pity, given the tremendous delivery capability of the IHLs," he said. But it was also understandable because continuing education and training has never been the remit of IHLs, whose primary mission is to educate students.

That has now changed, he added, with CET now part of the expanded mission of the institutions of higher learning.

The hope is that "the new and unknown can be demystified, and Singaporeans can pick up relevant skills and knowledge of this era, and face the future with greater confidence and enthusiasm".

Courses will be available across basic, intermediate and advanced levels. The bulk of basic courses will cost participants less than $500.

"There will be something for everyone," said Mr Ong, who also pointed out the challenges IHLs will face as they embrace adult learning.

For one thing, they will have to build up expertise in training adults, given that their learning needs are "fundamentally different" from those of students.

In the light of the ministry's finite budget, it will also review the funding of master's programmes that are "purely academic" in nature.

Funding for master's courses to be reviewed
This is partly for redirecting over $70 million for continuing education and training under a new scheme
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017

The Ministry of Education (MOE) will be reviewing the funding and delivery arrangements of master's programmes at the autonomous universities.

This is partly due to the fact that funding of over $70 million will be redirected towards providing continuing education and training under a new SkillsFuture scheme over the next three years.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung announced this at the Lifelong Learning Festival yesterday, where the new SkillsFuture Series of bite-sized courses targeting key sectors of growth was launched.

"As we invest more in industry-relevant, modular training for adult workers, we face the reality of a finite budget, and the need for prioritisation," he said, noting that the changes will take place no earlier than 2019.

Funding levels for programmes with coursework components that are "purely academic" in nature will have to be relooked, while coursework that could be vocation-based could be delivered in a bite-sized format that can be accumulated and lead to graduate certifications.

Some of the universities, such as Singapore Management University (SMU), are already doing this. SMU Academy, the university's lifelong learning unit, will be offering financial technology modules that can be "stacked up" towards a Master of IT in Business.

SMU provost Lily Kong said the university expects adults pursuing non degree-awarding professional continuing education to make up about two-thirds of SMU's student population by 2025. Undergraduates will make up from a fifth to a quarter of the population, with the rest in postgraduate study at the master's or doctoral level.

At SMU Academy, about two-thirds of its 80 or so courses will be offered under the SkillsFuture Series and enrolment is likely to hit 5,000 by the end of next March.

Professor Ho Yew Kee, Singapore Institute of Technology's associate provost for SkillsFuture and staff development, said the university is exploring the possibility of a stack-up model for its bite-sized continuing education courses that may eventually lead to an academic qualification that is recognised by the industry.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said that the expansion of skills-based continuing education does not necessarily have to come at the expense of the production of academic research, or the delivery of more academic-based programmes. Fruitful research projects could develop when there is a deeper understanding of the evolving needs of industries, he said.

"Just as research informs teaching, teaching necessarily also informs research. Through the course of working with adult learners and having a deeper understanding of the evolving needs of industries, fruitful research projects in many areas may develop," added Dr Seah.

Mr Felix Tan, managing director of corporate financial technology accelerator The FinLab, said that such bite-sized courses can offer potential industry entrants an understanding of what the job may entail.

"Unless you've had strong prior work experience, it's hard to expect someone new (to the industry) to be able to hit the ground running after attending these short courses."

Vocational training push
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2017

Institutes of higher learning (IHLs), from universities to the Institute of Technical Education, now account for only 8 per cent of vocational adult learning courses. But they will soon be taking on a bigger role, with the launch of the SkillsFuture Series of subsidised courses last Saturday.

Set to cost $70 million over the next three years, the scheme will train 50,000 Singaporeans annually by 2020 in key areas of growth, such as data analytics and cyber security, through bite-sized courses.

The move signals a concerted push to get IHLs, particularly universities that have been traditionally focused on academia, to have an active and direct role in addressing economic challenges faced by Singapore in an age of disruption.

Taking up such short courses can help workers determine whether they have the aptitude for a new role in a changing industry, or if they can switch to a completely different sector in need of manpower.

Some adults might be deterred from taking up such vocational training as professional certifications may not carry the same level of prestige as a qualification like a master's degree.

Last year, only 42 per cent of the workforce went for training that was relevant to their jobs.

But since some of these new SkillsFuture Series courses can be accumulated into academic credits that allow one to get a master's degree after several courses, this can attract more professionals to take up training in sectors that need manpower.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung also announced that ministry funding for "purely academic" master's courses in universities could be reviewed, as more is spent on vocational training instead.

This could also be an incentive for universities to make their postgraduate programmes more relevant to industry needs.

Still, it is important that the value of such academic programmes does not get undermined at the expense of vocational training, given that they deliver intangible skill sets like critical thinking that are still valued by employers across all industries.

New SkillsFuture Series to train 50,000 annually in eight priority and emerging skills areas

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