We received many SMSes, and there were a couple of common themes that were persistent across them, which we would like to address below. These themes revolved around:

  • Purpose of a university education;
  • How the increase in university places would be implemented;
  • Leveraging on private education institutes;
  • Affordability of a university education; and
  • Need to change society's perceptions and prejudices

View all the questions and comments (78kb .pdf)

Purpose of a University Education

Some of your comments touched on the fundamental question of the purpose of university education. The Committee did consider this, and agree that a degree education is multifaceted and fulfils several objectives, striking a good balance between developing the individual to achieve his full potential; and equipping the individual with the competencies and skills for future employment. To do so, it is crucial to maintain the quality of education, and its value to the individual – key considerations as we seek to expand publicly-funded university opportunities for Singaporeans

How to Increase University Places

Several people raised the issue of how more graduates would affect the employment prospects of graduates in general. There were also suggestions that it was not only about places per se, but that the Committee should also look at the mix of courses.

We agree. The expansion of places must be conducted in tandem with the developments and demands of the economy. Instead of having more of the same types of pathways, the Committee believes that it would be beneficial to diversify the university landscape further to cater to a variety of learning styles, aptitude and aspirations.

We need to expand into courses where there is strong industry demand for graduate-level skills and competencies, many of which could be applied in nature. We also want to introduce pathways that will ride on the strengths of the parts of the education system that feed into universities, i.e. the junior colleges and polytechnics.

With regard to the specific types of courses on offer, the Committee will deliberate further on this, in consultation with the relevant government agencies and industries, to gauge the ability of employers to absorb students on work-study programmes or as potential employees.

There was also a comment about admissions criteria. The criteria should take reference from the pathway, and be appropriate in assessing whether the students are well-prepared for the course.

Leveraging on Private Sector

We also understand that some would like the Committee to consider leveraging on the private sector, or to extend some of the existing schemes, such as government grants and use of post-secondary education account (PSEA), to students enrolled in private education institutions (PEIs).

The 30% university cohort participation rate target for 2015 does not include PEIs such as SIM Global. However, as explained at the session, the quality of programmes offered by PEIs is not uniform across the sector. PEIs can and should do more to focus on quality outcomes to ensure that the educational experience is of good quality and of value to the individual.

The Committee is considering how best to tackle this issue. We are studying the experience of other countries to learn from them what is feasible and good to do, and what not to do.

Affordability of University Education

Some of you touched on affordability of the university pathway. Indeed, we want the opportunities for university education to remain open and affordable to all Singaporeans. Today, the government subsidises a large proportion of university education through grants, and offers additional loans and bursaries to meet the needs of students. Having recently reviewed the bursary scheme, increasing both the coverage and quantum provided, we are studying if there is scope to make our loan schemes more attractive as an additional source of funding without imposing undue loan burdens on students.

Societal Mindsets

As mentioned by some of you, societal perceptions do matter, especially in terms of how young Singaporeans take to the new university models being recommended by the Committee.

As with all new models, there may be some uncertainty surrounding it at the beginning. It is thus important for the initial success of models such as the work-study or cooperative education model and Continuing Education Training (CET) to speak for themselves, and for them to garner support from both prospective students and employers. To do so, these models need to develop a pedagogy and approach which would provide a valuable educational experience and would allow students to manage their work and study commitments.

During the Townhall session, one of the committee members asked students whether they would be prepared to take up a work-study degree programme, even if it meant that they would take a longer time to graduate. It was heartening to see during that the majority of students raised their hands in support of such a programme. This shows that there is student interest for work-study programmes, and for a more ‘practice-oriented’ university model.

Parting Thoughts

We found the Townhall session useful in giving the Committee more insight into the concerns and “wish list” of the stakeholder groups present: prospective degree students and their teachers, current university students, and employers. We will take these into account as we study and further refine our thoughts on how to give more opportunities to Singaporeans to access degree-level education.

Even as we discuss increasing places beyond 2015, it is important to remember that we have already set in motion an expansion in the number of university places for Singaporeans from 12,000 places in 2011 to 14,000 places in 2015. We have also taken the first steps towards diversification of degree pathways, through the establishment of the Singapore Institute of Technology, Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the upcoming Yale-NUS Liberal Arts College and the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. The fruits of all these efforts can be seen now, and will continue to yield benefits – both to our students and to society at large – over the next few years.

Thank you for all your feedback and comments. Please do continue to provide us with your feedback and comments.