“These include having to battle perceptions that their degrees are not as prestigious, as well as discrimination from prospective employers” (Lower Pay, Discrimination, Some of the Hurdles Facing Private University Grads, Toh Ee Ming).
A question which unfortunately remained unanswered in TODAY’s commentary (Apr. 7) on the comparatively low employment rate and starting salary of private school graduates – based on the findings from the latest graduate employment survey (GES) published by the Private Education Institute (PEI) – is the extent to which, in the first place, a (private) university degree is needed in Singapore.
This question applies to both private school graduates and their counterparts from the local autonomous universities (AU), yet at the moment the odds seem more heavily stacked against the former. For the class of 2016/2017, their full-time employment rate of 47.4 per cent – six months after graduation – is a sharp drop from the 60.1 per cent of their seniors in the class of 2015/2016. The 47.4 per cent full-time employment rate is also 31 percentage points lower compared to graduates from the local AUs. The S$2,650 median gross monthly salary of a private school graduate is also S$750 lower. While it should be noted that among the many PEI institutions sampled in the GES some, such as the Singapore Institute of Management, did fairly well, the poor overall performance is of concern.
Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns over perceived discrimination against private school graduates at the workplace, a more pragmatic solution would be to educate and to encourage students from the institutes of higher learning – the junior colleges and the polytechnics – to consider their areas of specialisation and their aspirations, before deciding whether they should matriculate in a university. Enhancements to education and career guidance which have followed the recommendations of the 2014 Aspire committee as well as the broader SkillsFuture initiative provide a good foundation, though changing perceptions of the university degree as the be-all and the end-all remains a tall order. Perhaps the aforementioned statistics could first urge individuals to be more judicious.
Second, regardless of one’s enrolment in a PEI institution or a local AU, students should be encouraged to build their skills and to accrue internship stints beyond the university. While it may be true that some AUs provide their students with more opportunities and resources, it does not necessarily hold that “compared to AU graduates who have the luxury of time to do internships during the school curriculum, there is a less emphasis for PEI students [to do so]”. The antiquated belief that good grades and a good degree automatically lead to a good job is less likely to materialise these days. And in this vein too, challenging the need for a (private) university degree is, moreover and by extension, a challenge to the notion that lifelong learning ceases upon graduation.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.