JC or Poly? An education in options is needed
University degrees are many things: Markers of academic achievement, recognition of subject mastery, status symbols, signals to the labour market, luxury goods as well as credentials.
In Singapore, as elsewhere, obtaining a degree is evermore viewed as essential for attaining economic success and upward mobility.
Not only does post-secondary education produce a higher return for every year of additional schooling than lower levels, but in the last decade, the returns to university education were growing faster than for other types of education as the shift to a more knowledge-intensive economy became more pronounced in Singapore.
Put another way, the share of national income, not surprisingly, accrues disproportionately to those who hold university degrees.
A 2008 study by National University of Singapore professor Ishita Dhamani showed that while degree holders made up only 17 per cent of the population, they took home approximately a third of the income.
Against this backdrop, small wonder that the demand for higher education is growing.
The Government is doing an admirable job of attempting to expand the number of available university slots for its citizens, with an eye not just to numbers but to ensuring places in fields where there is market demand for graduates.
Just in the past decade, the expansion has been enormous: Compared with 2002, the intake for full-time students at university has grown by 40 per cent while at the polytechnics, the increase has been almost 50 per cent.
By 2020, the Government’s goal is to ensure that 40 per cent of the age cohort has the opportunity to attend university in Singapore.