Even as more than 70,000 Singaporeans pursue degrees and diplomas through the private education sector, a broad-based survey released yesterday showed that many of them lagged far behind their peers from public universities in the job market.
Not only do private school graduates find it harder to land jobs but, on average, they also command noticeably lower starting salaries.
This prompted Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), to remind Singaporeans that one should not pursue a degree simply because it is the default pathway - as there are other options available.
In fact, the first employment survey of private school graduates painted a sobering picture of their prospects.
The Council for Private Education (CPE), which regulates the private education industry, surveyed 4,200 students who graduated with degrees from nine private schools in 2014.
Only 58 per cent of the fresh graduates who had no prior working experience found full-time jobs within six months of completing their studies. Another 21 per cent managed to find only part-time or contract work.
The median starting salary of those with full-time jobs was $2,700 a month.
This compares poorly with the 83 per cent full-time job rate and $3,200 median gross monthly salary of the graduates from three public universities - the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) - for the same period.
If those in part-time work were included, then the job rate for NUS, NTU and SMU graduates goes up to 89 per cent.
CPE said it is looking into conducting a similar survey yearly to provide more "granular data" to help students make more informed decisions before enrolling in private schools.
Mr Ong, who spoke at a convocation ceremony at Lasalle College of the Arts yesterday afternoon, referred to the survey findings and said the median salary of private school graduates was 15 per cent lower than that of graduates from autonomous universities. Those intending to enrol in degree programmes at private schools "need to know these pragmatic but important facts".
He said the Education Ministry and CPE were looking to improve the quality of education and employment prospects for those who take the private school route, but said students should be equipped with the necessary information to make informed choices.
He noted that under the SkillsFuture initiative, the Government is opening up more varied pathways for Singaporeans. These include the Earn and Learn scheme, where graduates from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education can work and further their qualifications at the same time. The universities, too, are developing pathways for working adults.
"When you make a decision to pursue a degree, it should be after a thorough exploration of the choices and pathways available - not because a degree programme is the default pathway. A degree is but one path. Hopefully, with greater access to information, students and their families can make the best choices for themselves," said Mr Ong.
Officials from established private schools said the findings may be skewed as they were based on the employment outcomes for students from nine schools that are of varying quality.
The Singapore Institute of Management said its own survey for the class of 2014 found 73 per cent of its graduates got full-time jobs within six months. The school, which has an enrolment of 20,000 students with 16,400 locals, said "the employability of our graduates is a priority" and it has taken steps to help its graduates get good jobs fast.