Speech by Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Ministry of Education, at the Singapore Association for Private Education (SAPE) Annual Conference

Published Date: 18 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Viva Sinniah, President of SAPE,

Ms Hui Mei San, Director-General of Private Education,

Distinguished Guests and Speakers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to be here with you this morning. I am very happy to see the turnout. Each year, SAPE brings together industry stakeholders, regulators and policy makers to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the private education (PE) sector faces. This platform provides a good opportunity for us to learn from one another, and consider how the PE sector can support Singaporeans in learning throughout their lives, as one of the pillars of continual education and training.

Regulatory Transformation

2. When the private education regulatory regime was first introduced in 2010, there were more than a thousand providers of varying sizes and quality. The focus then was to establish baseline standards in the sector, and prevent the actions of a few errant providers from tarnishing the overall image of the sector. Over the past ten years, the sector has worked together with the Committee for Private Education (CPE), to meet the new regulatory standards and raise its overall quality. I am happy to see that progress has been made. One indicator of the improvements in standards that have been achieved by the sector, is the increase in number of PEIs that have attained certification under EduTrust, a quality assurance scheme to differentiate PEIs with better processes and outcomes. Since 2015, the number of PEIs with such certification went up from 107 to 124, and in 2018, 81% of these EduTrust-Certified PEIs held a four-year EduTrust Certification. In other words, we can see that quality has been rising over the years. Of course, EduTrust by itself is not a silver bullet that solves all problems; but it is a quality mark that gives assurance to the students, parents and stakeholders.

3. Taking into account the improved private education landscape, as well as feedback that it has received from PEIs, CPE has been reviewing its regulatory policies and processes to reduce administrative and compliance burden for PEIs.

4. I have previously shared how CPE has streamlined processes and introduced cost savings for businesses. For example, it has simplified the registration renewal process for PEIs that have a good track record and revised the minimum registration period from one to two years to give PEIs greater certainty to make business and investment plans. PEIs can also enjoy cost savings of up to $640 annually, with reduced administrative requirements when they submit applications for new courses.

5. CPE will continue to enhance its regulation to raise the quality of PEIs and their courses, and to better protect the interests of consumers. It will adopt a pro-business and risk-based approach in doing this because CPE wants to strike a balance between the risks involved and costs incurred. Such measures allow CPE to identify PEIs with better processes and outcomes, and focus their efforts on those that need additional help and support. The end in mind is to raise quality, to build capabilities and ultimately to give greater confidence. This is important not just for your consumers in Singapore, since many of you are also interested in going overseas. Trust and quality take time to develop and require a lot of hard work. And everyone will have to keep working at it.

New Enhancements in EduTrust

6. To help good performing PEIs sustain their quality, I am happy to announce that CPE will be making three new enhancements to the EduTrust Certification Scheme.

7. First, from 1 January 2020, PEIs with at least two consecutive terms of 4-year EduTrust certification will undergo a simplified EduTrust renewal process which will focus only on key EduTrust requirements such as academic processes, student assessment and quality assurance. This will reduce the time and resources spent on renewing your EduTrust certification. These are PEIs with good track records, so CPE will use a risk-based approach to simplify the renewal process for these PEIs.

8. Second, PEIs with at least two consecutive terms of 4-year EduTrust certification, will be given the option of subscribing to a Group Insurance scheme to fulfil the Fee Protection Scheme requirement. With these two enhancements, eligible PEIs can expect annual potential manpower cost savings of about $55,000, as well as reduced compliance burden.

9. Third, CPE has further enhanced the Guided Interim Assessment to support PEIs in improving key aspects of their processes, and to adopt better industry practices to improve student outcomes. SSG is committed to working together with PEIs to improve quality and standards, and to build a trusted sector that can serve consumers in Singapore and overseas markets.

Creating Space for PEIs to Transform to Meet the Needs of Singaporeans

10. We hope that these changes to the EduTrust scheme, together with the earlier regulatory improvements, will free up resources for PEIs to focus on further improvements to their course quality and service to students in a new economy.

11. In the past, education was seen to follow a linear progression. A person would typically complete his education in school before stepping into the workforce. This concept of trying to squeeze as much as possible in the earlier years of education so as to prepare for work may have been applicable in the past when what you learned in school could last you for some time. However, now and in the future, what you learn in school is to provide you with the foundation and to teach you the skills of learning which will enable you to pick up new knowledge along the way.

12. The new landscape is more complex, with people periodically returning to education and continuing training, whether to plug specific gaps in their knowledge and skills that may be needed to solve new problems at work, or to move into adjacent or different fields of work. Some of the jobs that we have today may no longer be around in time to come, but we must still make sure that our workers are able to have jobs, even if they are different kinds of jobs, and look at how we can train them, equip them with skills, and help them transit into these new jobs. This is also a very important part of lifelong learning and CET. So, work and learning are now more interspersed, and should become a lifelong journey, rather than distinct phases of one’s education and career development.

13. There are three aspects of how the private education sector can transform to support individuals and industries. First, PEIs have to offer quality programmes that can help develop the skills and knowledge that industries need. One way of doing so is to refer to the Skills Frameworks that SSG has co-developed with employers, industry associations, unions, and education and training providers. I would like to encourage PEIs to use the Skills Frameworks to gain insights into sector trends and the skills that are in demand and emerging, so as to develop and offer up-to-date and relevant PET and CET programmes.

14. Second, PEIs should focus on enhancing programme delivery, to shift from the traditional emphasis on transfer of knowledge in a classroom setting, to focus more on knowledge and skills applications in the workplace. Some of this may have to be more modular. A common feedback from employers is that as their workers work long hours, they are unable to send their workers for long or full day courses. As such, the mode of teaching and learning will then have to be different for them, and this is where technology can help. Technology opens up new possibilities. You can use devices or even design your courses differently.

15. Technology can also be used to help you scale up and reach out to more people, including consumers based overseas. You can have the same content, but you can translate it, add subtitles, and then deliver it to a different audience.

16. Third, as PEIs serve diverse student types, including those who are already in the workforce, you will need to transform your programmes to improve accessibility and convenience for working adults – I touched on some of these points earlier. This can be achieved through bite-sized modules, and using different modes of delivery that leverage technology to deliver your content. And I think if PEIs do this well, it will be an important part of contributing to the national SkillsFuture movement.

17. For PEIs that are willing to transform and contribute to this SkillsFuture movement, the Government will support and work with you. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) has worked with both public institutions of higher learning and also private institutions to offer industry-relevant initiatives. In 2018, SSG partnered over 1,000 private training providers, including many PEIs, to provide training programmes to Singaporeans.

18. SSG has also partnered with SIM Global Education and TUM Asia, alongside strong and credible industry players, like SATS and Festo respectively, to offer SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes, or what is now known as SkillsFuture Work-Study Post-Diplomas. I encourage PEIs who are interested to get in touch with SSG to discuss possible collaboration. SSG is happy to work with PEIs as long as you are able to deliver quality programmes.

Venturing Overseas

19. Let me now touch on going overseas. Once you are sufficiently established, you may then start thinking about scaling up. PEIs which can successfully transform and offer courses of value may find a market beyond Singapore’s shores.

20. We have already seen some good examples, and this is partly because there is a high regard for the Singapore brand, especially in the region. People look at Singapore as a place where they can get value, and they are confident when dealing with us. I want to stress this because trust and quality are linked. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop, but if you are not careful, it can be destroyed quickly. A few black sheep may drag down the reputation of those in the industry.

21. CPE has facilitated overseas expansions by simplifying the process for PEIs with at least a four-year EduTrust Certification to offer their courses and qualifications overseas. Last year, SSG worked with the Strategic Association of Professional Training-Consulting Organisations (SAPTCO) to support some private training providers to develop and export training programmes referenced to WSQ standards. About 300 trainees have completed this WSQ-aligned training in India so far, and the companies are further expanding in India and Vietnam. I think if things go well, this can be expanded further to include more countries in the region. This is an on-going effort, and SSG will continue to work with training providers to help you internationalise your businesses. If you are keen to internationalise, I would urge you to do it properly and not to compromise on quality – this is the key success factor.

22. Ladies and gentlemen, if I may, let me share a quick point with you. The way that SSG wants to develop the PE industry is no different from how the government wants to grow other sectors. In my speech in parliament earlier this year, I spoke about the three “Up’s”. The first “Up”, is “Level Up” – this is where you need to improve quality, course content, and the use of technology platforms to help you deliver quality courses to your students. The second “Up”, is “Scale Up”. And the last “Up” is “Team Up” – this is also important because you cannot do this if you operate alone. Whether it is to develop technology solutions, or to share best practices with one another, these are areas where the association can bring the members together to achieve a better outcome for everybody. There may be concerns about sharing information within the industry. It is understandable that there are certain things that you cannot share because it is your IP. However, there are also some areas that can be shared to benefit everyone in the industry.

Conclusion

23. Thank you all for attending this Conference today, because it demonstrates a readiness to change and make further improvements. Just as learning needs to be a lifelong endeavour, it must also be part of our cultural DNA to continuously look for ways we can further improve. If there are ways in which policies and regulations can be further improved, do provide feedback.

24. My appreciation also goes to SAPE for organising this annual conference, and for the tireless work in fostering good working relations among government agencies, industries and PEIs. I wish everyone a fruitful conference ahead.

25. Thank you very much.

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