WikiLeaks news revealed last month that only 23% of Singaporean students entering primary school will ever complete a 4-year tertiary education. Even though the report was out in early September, the ramification of the leaked report is still been felt till today.
According to the damning WikiLeaks report, Cheryl Chan – asst director of Planning Division at Ministry of education (MOE), stated that the government does not encourage more Singaporeans to get higher education, capping graduate enrolment rate at 20-25 % because the labour market does not require too many graduates
So far, the government has yet to come out and defend it’s policy.
What is most troubling is that the country continues to allow in hundreds of thousands of foreign professionals via the Employment Pass (EP) category as the population is deemed to be lacking in skills that could meet the requirement of the current economy. Nevertheless, many citizens have commented via the various blogs here that the foreign professionals who came in simply because they have the basic qualifications attained in their third-world countries ate lacking in skills and hardly could be called “talents”.
It is presumed that the majority of the population does not benefit from the current economic bloom as the country is now flooded with foreign professionals out to reap the benefits of our own economy. One in three workers now in Singapore is a foreigner. Ironically, most of our unemployed middle-aged PMETs could only drive cabs or indulge in commissioned work such as insurance or property agents – adding on to the current employment mayhew in our country.
Tighening graduate enrolment not only frustrates the local population benefiting fully from the current economic bloom but also limiting social mobility.
Though there is a certain section of the population that benefits from our meritocratic educational system and managed to escape from the poverty trap, many others are not so fortunate. Limiting graduate enrolment only makes the situation worse as the general population has less chance to benefit from the current growing economy.
This is probably why our wage gap remains one of the largest in the world and the bottom 20% of our low-waged workers have stagnanted wages for the past few years.
Though the government has poured much resources and attention to its primary, secondary and post secondary education, it’s tertiary educational programmes remain limited. So far, there are only three state-funded universities: National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU).
Source:Singapore Education Statistics Digest 2008
Type of School
Number of schools (2008)
In the NUS student graduates’ statistics 2009/10, a total of 6088 first degree graduates were recorded of which 5869 were studying full time. For the previous year 2008/09 statistics, a total of 5986 first degree graduates were recorded. A year earlier 2007/8, the first degree graduates figure stood at 5797.
These NUS first degree graduates’ intake statistics proved that the tertiary enrolment during the recent few years have not risen much and may be intentionally capped to be in line with governmental policy.
It can be assumed that annually, our three state universities only take in less than 15, 000 fresh graduates and the rest have to fend for themselves.
It is also worrying to witness many internet comments stating that our government has provided allotted spaces for foreigners to study using our tax paying money when our own people have to pay astronomical sums to study abroad.
The overseas scholars merely have to complete their study and sign a bond to stay and work in the country for a few years. Many are also offered permanent residence status immediately after they have graduated.
Currently, The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) each haas more than 20 000 students. Singapore Management University (SMU), opened in 2000, has take in more than 7000 stduents.
On the other hand, private tertiary educators are doing a roaring trade as adult learners flock to SIM University (UniSIM) taking up the various higher learning programmes available.
Established in 2005, it has took in a total of 10, 000 students so far and the government has provided a 40% subsidy funding to matured Singaporeans who wanted to study at their own pace.
Other sinister reaons behind government’s skewed policy?
Many netizens have speculated that there may be other sinister reasons that our government is not prepared to reveal for the capped graduates’ enrolment as many thousands of Singaporeans have to pay their own way annually to tertiary education through private educators.
Our annual government budget for education in Singapore has always being in the high 20% category but a lot probably goes into funding for the JCs, polytechnics and ITEs. Polytechnic and ITE graduates normally serve as technicians and rarely aspired to be head of department or section head. They remain secondary employees of a company serving the needs of our multi-national companies out to make a quick buck from our glittering economy.
Being a country of high GDP growth and reserves, this seems ironical and many could not understand why the government is slow in the feet to beef up tertiary institutions.
Could it be that the government – always believing that elitism is something that will benefit the country in the long run – continues to treat tertiary education as an institution of higher learning for those gifted few rather than the general population?
It has continued government scholarship programmes even though many Singaporeans have ask the government to reconsider it’s merits. Besides instilling unhealthy elitistic values, scholarship programmes have also lose its significance as the rich also now apply for such programmes in order to be listed as a coveted “Scholar”.
Wikipedia in the article - Education in Singapore - commented on the merits of meritocracy:
”Meritocracy is a basic political ideology inSingapore and a fundamental principle in the education system which aims to identify and groom bright young students for positions of leadership. The system places a great emphasis on academic performance in grading students and granting their admission to special programmes and universities, though this has raised concerns about breeding elitism. Academic grades are considered as objective measures of the students’ ability and effort, irrespective of their social background. Having good academic credentials is seen as the most important factor for the students’ career prospects in the job market, and their future economic status.”
I remembered not been able to enter our prestigious universities 25 years ago after receiving my GCE A level result. Though my results were not fantastic, I am sure that if I am in Australia or the USA, I would gain easy entry into any tertiary programme and attain my degree at the state expenses.
I have to slog my way through private diploma skilled programmes using my own hard-earned money. I could only claim back less than $2500 in relief when I computed my income tax return.
I also realized that only less than 20% of my pre-university classmates gained entry into the public universities and the rest of us were left either to pursue higher education at our own expenses or continued on to work in lacklustre jobs due to our lack of advanced education.
Many managerial positions were meant for only graduates and those who could paid their way to higher education abroad have a strong head start in their career path – regardless of whether they could work or not.
The lack of a university degree has truly hampered a lot of Singaporeans from gaining a foothold in the work force. Many positions require at least a basic degree and the lack of it has prevented many Singaporeans benefiting from the current economic bloom.
Even though many first world developed countries have continued to pour money into its tertiary education in the bid to prepare its population to the fullest economic potential, our government has being slow in this area.
Countries like Japan, Australia and US have enjoy at least a 40% graduate population and many countries allow matured adults to participate in state-subsidised full-time tertiary education when they decided to pursue higher education after spending many years at work.
So far, our universities have not allow citizens of matured age to return to tertiary education at fully subsidized rates. They have to join part-time degree programmes that were conducted in the evening and paid only slightly subsidized rates.
More significantly, each year, only about 400 Singaporeans are allowed into the prestigious medical faculty despite the severe lack of medical doctors here. Many top-classed Singaporeans have to study medicine abroad and few venture home after their internship done abroad
The brain drain, which started from young, is more apparent during these recent years and there are surprisingly few initiatives from the government to stem it. Worse still, there are quotas given by the different educational institutions starting from primary schools to allow in more foreigners to partake in our limited educational pie.
For example, 15% of places in polytechnics are allotted to foreigners with excellent results and they are given scholarships and allowances. All they need to do is fulfill the 2-year requirement to continue staying and working in Singapore.
Ironically, we also have to import about 300 doctors from India and China yearly to meet the severe short fall in the medical field. Many have come in to start as interns first before they can be converted into full fledged doctors as their foreign medical degrees ate still not recognized.
This is a strange phenomenon that few people can comprehend. It has also led to unfounded speculation that our government has purposely sidelined the population from having too many graduates because an educated citizenry is troublesome to handle.
Many recent uprisings in theMiddle Eastare caused by students as they are articulate, fierce and reckless. This is more so if there is high graduate unemployment.
I will discuss why our government has decided to cap graduate enrolment in greater detail here.
Service industry does not need too many graduates
Ms Cheryl Chan has revealed that Singapore needs less graduates as we are scaling up the service industry. The two integrated resorts (IR) have hired more than 30, 000 workers so far but there isn’t any statistics revealing how many of them are Singaporeans.
However, her statement should indicate that not many of these IR workers are from Singapore and more tellingly, none will be a graduate as the pay structure and work conditions are not very favourable. Most service work pays less than $1500 a month with shift work thrown in.
Ms Cheryl’s statement has revealed that our economy may be heading towards a dominant service industry which will not benefit the well educated .
This is understandable as our government has being slow to react to the recent heavy withdrawal of many manufacturing industries to cheaper locations. Our domestic market has also being somewhat lackluster all along and beefing it up now with the current 5 million population mark seems logical.
A dominant domestic market can bring more stability and permanence to the country’s economy but the fact that it has also hire much more foreigners has somewhat nullified it’s inherent employment benefit to the native citizens.
Moreover, the 2008 global financial crisis has caused many of our prized engineers and middle-level managers to go out of job permanently. Many of these middle-aged PMETS either escape to other countries where their skills are still in demand or take up low end secondary jobs such as cab drivers or self-financed traders/property agents.
A lack of minimum wage policy in the country means that service industry jobs will continue to attract third world country workers who flock to the prosperous island state by the tens of thousands as companies can hire on the cheap with easy-to-get work permits. Our country has now become a top magnet for wealthy investors as they can earn first world return using cheap third world labour.
Singaporeans have not benefited much from the recent boom in our service industry viz-a-viz the two IRs. Worse, they have to bear with a sharp rise in foreign population and spike in crimes associated with all kinds of vices.
Our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promised Singaporeans, when he decided to have the two IRs, that the main reason is that they will help to create jobs for the country.
The decision to have the IRs was mooted during the 2008 global financial crisis and our country was going through a deep-seated recession.
Many manufacturing MNCs have pulled out during that period and relocated to cheaper countries during that period causing massive unemployment especially to our engineers and technicians.
Many MPs and citizens gave way then as the promise of more jobs for our countrymen softened the conscience of many.
However, we all knew by now that though the two IRs created tens of thousands of jobs, ironically only benefited our foreigner counterparts because of the low pay structure and tough working conditions.
Our country has become a haven for MNCs to make money because our government has allowed them to hire cheap foreign labour.
Too educated population difficult to handle?
We all remembered how the 1989 Chinese Tiananmen masscare was started by young graduates and intellectuals out to change the world.
The most recent Middle East uprisings were sparked off by undergraduates and graduates as they were young. articulate and reckless but mostly unemployed.
They were frustrated by the very few opportunities in their own country and the lack of human rights only worsen the situation.
Without much to lose and no family to take care of, young graduates continue to fuel many of the recent revolutionary activities.
Many here believe that our government has decided not to over-educate the population in case they get too smart and start subversive activities.
This is understandable as throughout history, the troublemakers are young, articulate and educated.
Notably, the Tiananmen massacre was led by a group of intellectuals and students, frustrated with the lack of liberation and reform in China.
At the height of the demonstration, as many as 100, 000 universities’ students and workers took to the streets nearby Beijing demanding economic and political reforms.
The Chinese Red Cross has estimated that 2, 600 people were massacred during the military crack down by and the Chinese government has stated that there were only only 261 death with 7, 000 wounded. NATO intelligence has recorded 7, 000 deaths whereas Amnesty International has estimated it to be 1,000 deaths.
It will be difficult for the government to fulfill all the aspirations of a well educated workforce. As of now, there is already growing resentment from the well-heeled middle-aged population who is crying out loud for political reform and more economic opportunities than those currently dished out to its’ local workforce.
It is well known throughout history that a well educated workforce is tough to handle – especially for a country that practices democracy.
They need room to air out their frustrations in a democratic social setting and more importantly they know how to cast their votes irrespective of the consequences.
In the recent 2011 General Election (GE), seats in the eastern part of Singapore were fiercely contested.
The Marine Parade (44%) and Tampines (43%) GRC – both contested by the National Soldarity Party (NSP) lost narrowly to the ruling party. The East Coast GRC contested by the Workers’ Party, won 45% of the votes along that precinct.
Aljunied GRC, won by the Workers’ Party (WP), was considered to be in the inner eastern part of Singapore.
Both teams contesting in Marine Parade and Tampines GRC were considered to be inexperienced and with little political experience – yet they managed to attract more than 40% of the votes.
None of the western part of the country attracted more than 40% of the opposition votes – not even the Choa Chu Kang GRC helmed by the government scholar husband-and-wife team Tony and Hazel Poa.
They could only mustered 39% of the votes there and is widely considered to be the A Team for NSP then.
Some have predicted that these eastern GRCS will remain hot contest zones in the next 2016 GE as voters residing there are seen as more educated and ready to push for more policy changes than their western residents.
Political analysts have speculated that the eastern part of Singaporean have all along attracted residents who are more educated and experienced. The properties there are also more expensive than the western part and it is reasonable to assume that the residents are also more allfuent and articulate.
Most of the western part of Singaporean tend to be inhibited by the lower middle to low income groups as it is not only further away from the city but also poorly developed. The value of the properties there naturally lose out to the eastern part of the country.
Many newly-converted citizens also bought properties in the west as it is cheaper. This is probably also one reason why the opposition parties tend to fare poorer in the west as new citizens will vote for the ruling party out of gratitude and loyalty.
The non-graduate segment of the population also bought properties in the west as they are less able to command a better paying job and have no choice but to settle for that area.
Being less educated, the voters are also seen to be simpler, easier to please and also less open to changes. They will prefer to have a status quo and more resistant to have political changes in the country.
The recent 2011 General Elections and recently-held Presidential Election have proved that the more educated voters have voted for changes against the ruling party as most of the voters in the east have voted for opposition parties’ candidates.
The tide is seen as turning against the current regime as our young people are getting more educated, articulate and ready for changes in our country.
It is also reasonable to assume that for political reasons, the government will want to cap graduate enrolment to ensure it’s political survival as a less-educated population is deemed to be less articulate and ready for changes compared to be a more educated one.
As our economy goes through rapid cyclical changes,Singaporeneeds a work force that is educated, nimble and energetic.
Capping our graduate enrolment is not only detrimental to our economic well being but also politically selfish.
With many well paying jobs going to foreign professionals currently, the local unemployed PMETs will be frustrated and agitated.
It is hope that the government will relook it’s current tight graduate enrolment and if possible bring annual intake to at least 35% of the primary school cohort.
If not, frustrated local citizens, so far not benefiting a lot from the current economic bloom, will continue to vote against the government in large numbers during future elections.
Written by: Gilbert Goh
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