Former army general and current Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan Jin claimed that paper qualifications are no longer “everything” and that Singaporeans do not need a degree to be employable or successful.
Responding to a student’s question at Nanyang Polytechnic of whether a degree or working experience is more important, Minister Tan Chuan Jin deflected the question and instead answered ambiguously, choosing to highlight the small numbers of successful individuals who did not have an university degree:
“I think there’s no one particular pathway that’s correct or wrong. It really depends on the individual. But what we do know is that in some countries where they do have many people going for university degrees, they do end up without jobs because the economy just doesn’t support it.
So what we want to see here in Singapore really is to develop options so that individuals who have the aptitude and would like to go to university, they can do so. Some may do it locally, some may pursue it elsewhere. But for others who are more skills-oriented and perhaps less academically inclined, or they prefer to deepen their competencies in different areas, other courses are available and you are not confined to just traditional pathways. Lifelong learning and SkillsFuture really are to cater for all these various options, so that individuals can exercise them.”
However, official employment report contradicted with Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s claim, with degree holders earning at least a S$500 premium in starting salaries over diploma holders. The income gap between degree and non-degree holders tend to widen with most non-degree holders seeing an invisible income glass ceiling.
Starting salaries of polytechnic students remained stagnated at S$2,100 since 2010 after factoring inflation. An ITE Nitec graduate command only S$1,500 starting salary while a degree holder can command up to S$3,200 in starting salary.
The Singapore government also pay up to S$20 million a year in foreign scholarships for foreign students, and often award domestic scholarships to performing students from well-off families.
Degree qualifications are the minimum for jobs in multi-national companies and even the civil service. Degree holders are also open to the option of emigration as skilled migrant visas in Australia and US.