AFTER THE A LEVELS

More degree programmes in niche areas at private schools

Campus of PSB Academy (left) and the lounge area of Kaplan Higher Education Academy (right). In the last two to three years, private institutions are moving beyond offering business and management degrees and have brought in more degree courses in ni
Campus of PSB Academy (left) and the lounge area of Kaplan Higher Education Academy (right). In the last two to three years, private institutions are moving beyond offering business and management degrees and have brought in more degree courses in niche areas. -- PHOTOS: PSB ACADEMY / KAPLAN HIGHER EDUCATION ACADEMY 

These days, private institutions are moving beyond offering business and management degrees.

In the last two to three years, they have brought in more degree courses in niche areas, from early childhood education to fashion and biomedical science.

School officials said that these are in line with the rising demand in Singapore for specialised skills and knowledge in the job market.

These degree programmes, usually three years long, cost between $17,000 and $40,000.

Dr Dale Anderson, the deputy vice-chancellor of Australia's James Cook University (JCU) who heads the Singapore campus, said: "As the private education sector evolves, we have to deliver relevant programmes that meet the needs of Singapore.

"Gone are the days when private schools just delivered basic business degrees. Churning out people just to have a degree no longer works.

"Students are too astute. They want to do a course that will give them a job."

JCU Singapore started its early childhood education degree course with 13 students last year to meet the "huge demand for qualified pre-school teachers" here, he said. It expects to enrol nine new students this month, and hold two more intakes this year due to "steady demand".

Its bachelor of business and environment science programme, which started in 2010 with eight students, now has 49 students.

Dr Anderson said: "With time, businesses are seeing the importance of sustainability and being environmentally sound."

Some schools such as Kaplan Singapore are offering new degrees in digital media, in addition to others in cyber forensics and information security management.

This is in anticipation of the rising demand for people who can work with online content marketing, social media and mobile technology, said Kaplan Singapore's president, Mr Leon Choong.

Last year, PSB Academy started three courses for new science degrees awarded by Australia's La Trobe University in specialisations such as molecular biology and pharmaceutical science.

Similarly, the East Asia Institute of Management (EASB) started a biomedical science degree course three years ago. It has enrolled 20 to 30 per cent more students each year.

In July, EASB will start a performing arts honours degree course with Scotland's Queen Margaret University.

The Management Development Institute of Singapore said its biggest increase in intake size was for its fashion degree courses, launched in 2011. The number of students taking up the courses increased by more than 100 per cent last year.

Students who chose niche degrees, such as Ms Teh Jiexin, 20, a first-year early childhood education student at JCU Singapore, said it was difficult to find such courses even in local universities.

"I considered the National Institute of Education's teaching degree, but I prefer to interact with very young children," she said.

Another student, Ms Chrispin Lim, 25, who took up PSB Academy's biomedical sciences degree course by La Trobe University, said: "The options in this field are quite limited in the private sector."

She works at a contract research company and attends night classes a few times a week.

"The knowledge I've gained on the course has helped me have a better understanding of the cancer drugs I'm working with."

Some private schools also saw an increase in demand for courses in hospitality and tourism.

EASB and Kaplan Singapore both saw up to 10 per cent more students in such courses in the last few years. To cater to this demand, PSB Academy introduced six courses last year in tourism and hospitality for degrees awarded by Edinburgh Napier University in Britain. It said student numbers are "encouraging".

More students are also going for double degrees. SIM Global Education (SIM GE) received more than twice the number of applications for courses leading to double degrees and degrees with double majors offered by the University at Buffalo in New York last year than in 2013.

These include courses in areas such as psychology and international trade.

These degrees offer "a more broad-based education and wider choices for employment after graduation", a SIM GE spokesman said.

ateng@sph.com.sg