Be careful not to marginalise university education

From the articles, "Pay rise for teachers and boost for non-grads among them" (last Wednesday) and "Closing the salary gap" ( last Saturday), it is clear that the Ministry of Education is looking beyond academic qualifications in how it charts the career of capable employees.

So are the other civil service agencies which, since last August, have been hiring university and non-university graduates under the same scheme.

Although there may be a temptation to remove the four divisions which currently categorise civil servants, it would be hard to imagine employees in Division 1, which comprises those in administrative and professional appointments, and Division 4 employees, who are manual workers, being placed in the same grade.

The underlying reason for the recent move is the emphasis on the importance of skills, not just academic qualifications.

But aren't skills a given for every job? All jobs require specific skill sets, be they soft or hard skills.

I see this move as a conciliatory effort of the Government.

The danger is that, if it is overdone, it risks marginalising or even making a mockery of a university education, something which Singaporeans aspire to, and explains the Singapore Institute of Technology's plan to increase the intake of polytechnic graduates who seek degree opportunities ("Uni for poly grads seeking degrees set for major expansion"; last Saturday).

A university education trains the mind in higher-order thinking skills, an important ingredient for career success.

Singapore is a meritocracy, of which academic qualifications are a cornerstone.

It has brought us to where we are today and is a tried-and-tested formula.

Hence, we need to be mindful of this in our pursuit of bridging the gap and increasing equality between university and non-university graduates.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Be careful not to marginalise university education'. Print Edition | Subscribe