Smaller cohorts but more choices in varsities

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said falling cohort sizes and increasing diversity are not incompatible notions .
Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said falling cohort sizes and increasing diversity are not incompatible notions .ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore can expect more choices in higher education even as student cohort sizes fall, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

"Expanding our higher education pathways is not incompatible with decreasing cohort sizes. In fact, as our manpower and talent base reduces, it is even more important to uncover everyone's potential to the fullest through more diverse education pathways," he told Parliament.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh had asked how the planned reduction in the number of junior colleges (JCs) would affect the supply of A-level holders to universities.

Mr Ong acknowledged the shrinking population of students in each age group would affect the number of A-level holders, as well as polytechnic graduates, going to university. But this will be cushioned by the rise in the university participation rate of each age group from 35 per cent this year to 40 per cent in 2020.

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Still, the number of students admitted to local autonomous universities will fall 10 to 15 per cent by 2025. This year, about 19,000 students are expected to be admitted.

Mr Ong added: "Because university education is more specialised, there is also less need for critical mass. The Singapore University of Technology and Design, for example, is doing very well as a university with a unique focus on design."

Dr Goh also asked if A-level education will "become a little bit more elitist because of the closing down of neighbourhood JCs".

Mr Ong said the cut-off point to enter a JC will remain the same, even though the number of students in each cohort is shrinking.

"We have to put in even more effort to make sure it's more diverse so that everyone can fulfil their potential," he added. "You look at cinemas now - (they are) getting smaller and fewer. But each cinema is showing a lot more titles. So I think it's the same logic. Falling cohort sizes and increasing diversity are not incompatible notions."

Chong Zi Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Smaller cohorts but more choices in varsities'. Print Edition | Subscribe