“Students who graduated from nine private schools in 2014 are being surveyed to find out what jobs they went into and what their wages are” (Move To Gauge Worth Of Private Degrees, Pearl Lee).
The new survey led by the Council for Private Education (CPE) – which will survey students from nine private schools “to find out what jobs they went into and what their wages are” (ST, Jan. 4) – appears timely, given the decline in enrolments from 100,000 in 2012 to 77,000 in 2015 as well as longstanding perceptions that Singaporeans enter private universities for the mere sake of the degree. Coupled with these perceptions may be expectations of higher remuneration or better prospects upon graduation, especially if fees are steep, without consideration of the applicability of the courses or the relevance of the degree in the first place.
So details about changes in wages or benefits accrued to graduates of private universities will be useful, since – depending on the degree or industry – prospective students can make more informed decisions. I have been sceptical of the Graduate Employment Survey (GES), conducted by the three autonomous universities together with the Ministry of Education, which provides information about the employment rate and average monthly salaries of graduates. A similar survey is also conducted by the five polytechnics for their diploma courses. But as a start the CPE survey provides some indication of the “worth” or “value” of a degree.
In fact reasons for my reservation towards the GES remains applicable. In the longer term, the entrenched mind-set that the academic pathway – and by extension, a university degree – is necessarily superior or critical for advancement in the workplace. CPE’s survey of the private schools should therefore also go beyond questions about employment statuses and salaries, to include questions about the aspirations or motivations of the graduates. In addition to the current question about “if they wished they had not furthered their studies at a private institute”, they could be called to evaluate the education they received, whether the pedagogies or experience matched initial expectations, and what their expectations were in the beginning..
And in this vein education and career guidance will continue to be applicable, and should be emphasised for these students. Even at the earlier stages there should be greater knowledge of the diversity and porosity of pathways in Singapore, and the tangible steps – besides universities – Singaporeans can take to achieve ambitions.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.