Young people peppered Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with questions about a new national push to enhance job opportunities for polytechnic and ITE graduates at a post-rally dialogue in Ang Mo Kio yesterday.
The first question was on how the Government planned to stop the paper chase, and change attitudes in the public sector.
That was swiftly followed by one from a Nanyang Technological University undergraduate who introduced himself as Suhaimi. He wanted to know what better opportunities for diploma holders would mean for those who took the degree route and whether the latter would still be "worthwhile".
He was one of about 350 young Singaporeans aged 12 to 35 who attended the dialogue, organised by the Youth Executive Committees of Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West, and held at St Nicholas Girls' School.
Mr Lee explained that the Government is not discouraging people from pursuing degrees but it wants young people to study what would be useful and valuable to them when they went to work.
Later, he also said that young people need to be aware that they have choices. They can head straight for university after school or work first and study part-time.
Right now, many do not know the menu of choices before them. That is why the Applied Study in Polytechnic and ITE Review Committee has recommended better career guidance for students, he said.
Mr Lee and Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh also highlighted the problem of some young people and their parents paying large sums for degree courses at institutions where the quality of education was suspect.
Mr Singh said that as an employer, he would prefer to hire a diploma holder, rather than someone with a degree from an unknown university that offered two-year degree courses, for example.
Turning to hiring decisions, Mr Lee tackled concerns about the public sector, which is known to consider only graduates for many jobs.
He said that the Civil Service had to make sure it hired people who could do the jobs it needed them to do.
That is why a Maths teacher, for example, needs to have a Maths degree or one in a related subject such as physics.
Someone hired to be a doctor should have passed his medical exams.
But in hiring an SAF officer, for example, there was no need for a specific academic qualification as what was needed was a man "who knew his business in the SAF, who has the right spirit and the right values and who can fight", he said.
A student from ITE College East by the name of Nicholas said he hoped to join the police but heard that diploma holders could only hope to move up to the rank of staff sergeant while a graduate would immediately be appointed assistant inspector.
Mr Lee said a degree gives a sense of what someone has accomplished but should only be a "starting point", as how a person advances in his career should depend on his performance and abilities.
Two of the young participants also asked Mr Lee about conserving nature and green places in Singapore. One expressed concern that the planned cross-island MRT line would cut through the Central Catchment Reserve.
Mr Lee said that has not been finalised and that first, the agencies in charge need to do an Environmental Impact Assessment. He also explained that if the line were to cut through the reserve, it would do so underground, and it might be possible to do so without harming the trees and animals above ground.