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‘Fast-track’ private degrees gaining popularity here

A growing group of young Singaporeans are opting to study at private institutions here instead of public universities, so that they can get their degrees faster.

SINGAPORE: After getting his diploma, Mr Keith Ang, 24, rejected a place in Singapore Management University’s(SMU) four-year economics degree course to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Ngee Ann-Adelaide Education Centre (NAA) because he could graduate in 18 months.

The two-and-a-half years saved would give him a head start over his peers, he reasoned. “The opportunity cost of taking up a local degree is higher (than enrolling in) a private one, especially if you’re doing a four-year programme ... I am ahead by two years at least,” said Mr Ang, who has graduated and is working as a consultant with the Nielsen company. Adding that his classmates had gone on to clinch jobs with reputable firms including local and foreign banks, Mr Ang said: “When you enter the workforce, the reality is that (where one gets his degree) doesn’t matter.”

Ms Zoey Lim, 21, took a similar route for the same reason. She declined offers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to study business and sports science nutrition, so she could enrol in NAA. She recently completed a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) degree, taking only a year to finish the course.

“Local university or private university, (it) would matter for the first job only ... after that, it’s all about experience,” she said.

CHANGING ATTITUDES

Amid strong demand for places at private universities, Mr Ang and Ms Lim are, based on anecdotal evidence, part of a growing group of young Singaporeans who are opting to study at private institutions here instead of public universities, so they can get their degrees faster. To them, a degree is simply a piece of paper to get their foot in the door at job interviews.

According to the latest figures from the Council of Private Education, there were 227,090 students enrolled in private institutions here last year. Of these, about six in 10 are citizens or Singapore permanent residents.

Ms Marissa Tang, 21, who is enrolled in the University of Manchester’s two-year direct honours business management course at SIM Global Education, pointed out that getting a job ultimately boils down to impressing the interviewer. “That certificate, to me, is just to get the interview and ... that extra two years is not worth it. I would take that two years to work, get experience and try to beef up my resume,” she said.

Employers, human resource experts and Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education felt that this is still a small group. But some acknowledged that the changing attitudes could be a worry.

The MPs cautioned against choosing a degree course solely for the reason that one can graduate faster. Citing examples of public universities offering summer courses for students to complete their degree programmes earlier as well, Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng said: “It’s not wrong to say that if you’re good and if (the courses) are rigorous enough, you can shorten the time to get a degree. But they have to be conscious of the quality of the institution they’re going for … There are quite a number (of private institutions) and they may not be of the same standard throughout.”

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the GPC, added: “Getting a degree is very much a training of the mind. If you are chasing a degree because of speed, I think you’ll short-change yourself … It’s very difficult to say that getting a degree in super fast time amounts to quality training.”

To uphold the academic rigour of the programmes, SIM Global Education has a comprehensive quality-assurance framework. The programmes are also audited by SIM University, the Council for Private Education, as well as overseas partner universities and their accreditation bodies, SIM Global Education CEO Lee Kwok Cheong said.

An NAA spokesman said its business programmes are accredited by the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). He added that the University of Adelaide is selective about the students accepted for the NAA programmes. Not only do the applicants need to hold relevant diplomas, their Grade Point Average scores are also taken into account.

THE VALUE OF A DEGREE

The Public Service Division (PSD) said in an FAQ on its website that there is “no central government authority that assesses or accords recognition to degrees for employment purposes”.

“In general, degrees from universities accredited by the home government of the country where the university originates will be considered for appointment into the Public Service,” it added. This applies to all degrees, regardless whether they were obtained full-time or part-time, through distance-learning or twinning programmes.

PSD said that for professional qualifications, the degrees obtained from institutions here or overseas must be recognised by the relevant professional bodies in Singapore to be considered for employment in the Public Service.

Private sector employers and HR experts were divided on the importance attached to where a candidate got his or her degree from. Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh, who is also CEO of Solstar International, felt there is, in general, still a preference for candidates with degrees from public universities, compared with those from private institutions. “We don’t just look at the degree and not at which university offered the degree, because the standards are different,” he said. His advice to students: “So, don’t just go for paper, you should go for quality paper.”

Agreeing, the managing director of recreation and construction company Retro Max, who wished to be known only as Mr Ang, said that while he is open to hiring graduates from private institutions, it is difficult to discern how reputable the universities are.

However, Mr Adrian Tan, managing director of Recruit Plus, felt that most companies do not care where a job seeker got his or her degree from, except when it comes to hiring for roles such as management consultants, where an employee’s alma mater is part of the company’s branding.

Mr Siddharth Jain, chief creative director of educational gaming company Playware Studios, added: “When we look at a candidate, we’re looking at his cover letter, the number of projects he has done, the kind of resume he has ... Just the fact that you’re from NUS (National University of Singapore) or NTU doesn’t give me any comfort because we’ve had experiences where students have a lot of bookish knowledge but not enough hands-on experience.”

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