NDR 2014 – To get a degree or not to get a degree?

Back in 2012 at the National Day Rally Speech (NDR), PM Lee Hsien Loong mentioned that there will be two more universities – the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the SIM University (UniSIM) – bringing the total number of national universities to six. This will mean that by 2020, 40 per cent of each school-going cohort will be able to study for a degree programme. This is significantly higher than the current 27 per cent. (Source: Channel NewsAsia)

There was a push for expanding university places for our local aspiring students for degree qualifications. Two years later and at NDR 2014, PM Lee went on to say that there should be a cultural shift to recognise workers not by mere qualification criteria but by placing more weight on job performance and relevant skills. ITE graduates and Polytechnic graduates can rise in any organisation just like the university graduates so long they contribute in the organisations.

I am trying to square the two messages in NDR 2012 and NDR 2014. Are they opposing policy statements?

Back in 2012, I was concerned that there would be a paper chase and with more university places opened, it encourages students to take them up. Now, it appears that vocational skills and on-the-job skills are just as important as academic qualifications. Employers including the largest employer (the Civil Service) should shift emphasis from academic qualifications to competency on the jobs.

So what changed over the span of two years for the latest exhortation in this year’s NDR?

There is going to be a mind-shift required of employers and civil service. To my mind, qualifications and job competency must be used to hire and to promote an individual in an organisation. That had been the case during my time in the employment service and employers know that too. Relevant university qualification is important to train individual for the job on hand as well. That fact cannot be ignored.

Back to the opening question, “to get a degree or not to get a degree?”, I thought it is the individual to decide on his passion and interest in a particular job field. Relevant degree enhances his job performances. If degree qualification is not his cup of tea, then his performance on the job should be able to see him through his progression in that organisation.

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