Niche courses at polytechnics a draw for students

More than 30,000 students took the O-level examinations last year and will be receiving their results tomorrow. This is the second of a five-part series on the results and the developments in the educational institutions that students can join after the examinations. Growing allure also due to improved chances of poly grads going to universities.

More school leavers - including those who did well enough to enter junior colleges - are joining the five polytechnics in Singapore, continuing a trend that started more than five years ago.

Figures from the Ministry of Education show the intake of the five polytechnics went up from 25,700 in 2010 to 26,879 in 2013, the latest year for which the complete figure is available.

More significantly, of those who entered the polytechnics after the O levels, 40 per cent had qualified for junior college.

More than 37,000 students sat the O levels in 2012.

The growing allure of the polytechnics is due partly to improved chances of their graduates progressing to universities here and the institutions offering more unusual courses for which there is demand, poly officials and students said.

The niche courses offered by the polytechnics are part of the attraction for school leavers. Such courses range from film, sound and video studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic to sports coaching at Republic Polytechnic.

This year, four new courses are being added, including three IT-related ones at Ngee Ann, Republic and Temasek polytechnics.

Republic is also offering a course on engineering systems and management, which aims to groom multi-disciplinary engineers.

To enter a junior college, a student's L1R5 score - based on O-level results for English and five relevant subjects - must not exceed 20 points.

Polytechnics require that the total score for English and four other subjects not exceed 26 points.

But for popular courses such as biomedical science and banking and finance, applicants need to score below 12 points to be accepted.

Students taking the three-year polytechnic route say they were attracted to the interesting courses and the practical and applied learning approach.

Despite qualifying for junior college with an L1R5 score of 6, Sofeah Samsuddin, 18, decided to take up the diploma course in veterinary technology at Temasek Polytechnic instead.

The former Singapore Chinese Girls' School student said: "I had my heart set on becoming a vet.

"So I thought, might as well enrol in a course that is directly relevant to the field I want to enter.

"The polytechnics are also known for building practical skills in their students, which I think is crucial to becoming a good vet."

Singapore Polytechnic student Tan Fong Xin, 19, had originally aimed to enter National Junior College but changed her mind after finding out more about the polytechnic route.

The former Xinmin Secondary student said: "The hands-on type of learning where you learn by doing suits me better."

The biomedical science student has gone on a research stint at Harvard University, volunteers actively and maintains a high grade point average of 4.

Polytechnic officials say another reason for the rising demand for places is the expansion of the university sector.

Singapore Polytechnic principal Tan Choon Shian said the expansion of Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM) has opened up more university places and pathways suited to polytechnic upgraders.

He said: "Many of their courses, including those for niche degrees, cater to polytechnic diploma holders. Their teaching style - based on applied learning and combining work and study - is also suited to the polytechnic students."

SIT, which partners overseas universities to offer courses, introduced its own degrees last year.

UniSIM, which has been running part-time degrees for working adults since 2005, added three full-time degrees last year.

To get students job-ready, both universities have adopted a hands-on approach to teaching and learning, and require their students to go on intensive work attachments.

It has been projected that, this year, about 20 per cent of the polytechnic cohort will make it to the local universities, up from 15 per cent a few years ago.

Ms Tan hopes to be among those to win a place at one of the local universities.

She said: "I know it is more difficult for poly students to get into medicine and law, but the numbers are increasing every year.

"I believe my polytechnic education has prepared me well for university, so I hope to land a place and realise my dream of becoming a doctor."

sandra@sph.com.sg