Think deeper about reasons behind pursuit of degrees

The new survey led by the Council for Private Education (CPE) appears timely, given the decline in enrolment of local students in private schools from 100,000 in 2012 to 77,000 last year, along with the longstanding perception that Singaporeans enter private universities merely for the sake of earning degrees ("Move to gauge worth of private degrees"; Jan 4, and "Private education sector hit by falling enrolment"; Oct 31, 2015).

Coupled with these perceptions may be expectations of higher remuneration or better prospects upon graduation, without consideration of the applicability of the courses or the relevance of the degrees.

Thus, data on changes in wages or benefits accrued to graduates of private universities will be useful and could help prospective students make more informed decisions.

I have been sceptical of the Graduate Employment Survey (GES), conducted by the autonomous universities together with the Ministry of Education, which provides information about the employment rate and average monthly salaries of graduates.

A similar survey is also conducted by the polytechnics for their diploma courses.

But, as a start, the CPE survey will provide some indication of the "worth" or "value" of a degree.

The reasons for my reservations regarding the GES remain applicable. In the longer term, the entrenched mindset is that the academic pathway - and, by extension, a university degree - is superior or critical for advancement in the workplace.

The CPE survey of the private schools should, therefore, go beyond questions about employment statuses and salaries, to include questions about the aspirations or motivations of the graduates.

Those surveyed could be called to evaluate the education they have received and asked whether the pedagogies or their experiences matched their initial expectations.

In this vein, education and career guidance will continue to be applicable, and should be emphasised for these students.

Even in the earlier stages, there should be greater knowledge of the diversity of pathways in life in Singapore, and the tangible steps - beyond universities - Singaporeans can take to achieve their ambitions.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2016, with the headline 'Think deeper about reasons behind pursuit of degrees'. Print Edition | Subscribe