Changes aim to help students make better choices: Experts

The latest moves to tighten private education - such as requiring schools which offer degrees to report their graduate employment data - are meant to help students be more discerning and make better choices, said experts.

They are also in line with the SkillsFuture philosophy - that it is better to gain work-relevant skills through other pathways instead of hankering after a degree.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said the changes ensure that private courses, especially degree programmes, are of some quality, and that schools are not just "out to make a quick buck".

The quality of private schools varies, from the reputable to dodgy operators, he said, adding: "Students take these degree courses expecting returns in their job prospects... but some of them find to their horror that they're not employable."

These courses can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 a year.

A pilot survey by the Council for Private Education, now known as the Committee for Private Education, showed private students had a harder time finding jobs compared with their peers from public universities, and commanded less pay.

The results, released last month, showed that just 58 per cent of private university students found full- time work within six months of completing their studies. Their median starting pay was $2,700 a month.

This compares with the 83 per cent full-time job rate and $3,200 median gross monthly pay of graduates from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.

Ms Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the new measures are "consistent with the direction of the SkillsFuture movement which stresses mastery of skills over the mere pursuit of degrees".

"It should not be improbable for the Government to engage constructively with PEIs (private educational institutions) as the latter can be more nimble and expedient in meeting diverse lifelong learning needs."

There are also more options now for progression, through SkillsFuture schemes such as Earn and Learn, for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates to work and learn at the same time, and modular courses being developed by the local universities.

Said Associate Professor Tan: "The lure of a degree is still strong, but the Government is trying to encourage people to consider other options... A degree is no longer a guarantee of income or job stability, because of factors like technological disruption.

"There's no point in going for a degree that has little regard among employers and will lead to disappointment."

Third-year Temasek Polytechnic student Meredith Sim, 19, said she might take up a business degree in a private university after working for one to two years.

The hospitality and tourism management student said the graduate employment survey would help her know "the job and pay prospects after earning the qualification".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Changes aim to help students make better choices: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe