1 in 3 local university students admitted last year is a polytechnic student

Among the poly grads studying at local universities are (from left) Ms Lena Tan, 20, and Ms Pavani Jeyathasan, 20, both at SMU; Mr Kenneth Gwee, 23, at NUS; and Ms Naseera Hidayahtullah, 21, at UniSIM.
Among the poly grads studying at local universities are (from left) Ms Lena Tan, 20, and Ms Pavani Jeyathasan, 20, both at SMU; Mr Kenneth Gwee, 23, at NUS; and Ms Naseera Hidayahtullah, 21, at UniSIM.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Rise in line with diploma holders' aspirations to boost their skills

One in three local university students admitted last year is a polytechnic graduate, as the public university landscape expands and diploma holders seek to upgrade themselves.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has revealed that last year's local university intake had the highest ever proportion of polytechnic graduates at nearly 34 per cent, up from 24.7 per cent in 2011.

The figures are based on the student intakes of publicly funded undergraduate programmes at the six local universities. They are the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design, SIM University (UniSIM) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

Educators said the greater proportion of poly graduates in local universities is in line with the rising aspirations of diploma holders who want a university degree.

A spokesman for Ngee Ann Polytechnic said poly graduates have more options today. They can work in an area related to their course, go on to other careers or further their studies. "Ultimately, we want our students to have a passion for their chosen profession and to achieve skills mastery," she said.

One in five poly graduates won a place in a degree course this year. Four years ago, it was 15 per cent - about one in seven.

  • 34%

    Percentage of poly grads in last year's university intake 

    70%

    Approximate percentage of A-level holders who go on to university 

    20%

    Approximate percentage of poly diploma holders going to university this year

Education policy expert Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education noted that students' aspirations are linked to "the job market's bias in favour of degree holders". "So it's more for practical reasons than personal interest that most diploma holders want to gain a competitive edge."

While the Government is taking steps to value the skills and on-the-job performance of diploma holders, people's mindsets will take time to change, he said.

The median monthly starting salary for polytechnic graduates last year was $2,100, and $3,300 for university graduates.

Degrees of attraction

With the expansion of SIT and UniSIM, more university places have opened up for diploma holders. These two institutions offer longer and more immersive work attachment programmes.

Traditionally, junior college is seen as the most secure route to a degree - previous years' figures show that more than 70 per cent of A-level holders enter the local universities each year. But increasingly, a significant proportion of students who enter the polytechnics do so out of choice, and not because they do not qualify for junior college.

MOE said the six universities received about 39,000 applications from A-level holders, and close to 31,000 applications from polytechnic graduates last year. Each applicant usually goes for two, if not three, different institutions.

Polytechnic students said they are glad the local universities are opening up to them.

Mr Dylan Tan, 23, a mechanical engineering graduate from Singapore Polytechnic, said his sustainable infrastructure engineering (building services) course at SIT is a good continuation from his poly modules.

He was "very relieved" to get a place at SIT. "I don't have to worry about going to a private university or going overseas and being away from home," he said.

Ms Naseera Hidayahtullah, 21, a second-year accounting student at UniSIM, said she wanted to further her education after getting a business management diploma from Nanyang Polytechnic, but also wanted work experience. She chose UniSIM for its six-month work stint during term time. (At other universities, internships are usually during the holidays.)

"The practical training is part of the curriculum and it prepares us for employment," she said.

Ms Lena Tan, 20, who has a law and management diploma from Temasek Polytechnic, is glad to have clinched a place at SMU law school. The first-year undergraduate said: "If you want to do law, you need a professional degree.

"I knew my chances were very slim especially because I'm competing with top-notch JC students. I'm happy that we are given the same opportunities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'One in three undergrads is from poly: MOE'. Print Edition | Subscribe