Many ways to succeed

In recent years, a growing pool of polytechnic graduates has secured places in law and medicine in universities both at home and abroad. This is an encouraging development. It lends credence to the Government's aim of creating multiple pathways for students to fulfil their ambitions. Polytechnics have also restructured their curricula to include biomedical sciences, law and management, offering more scope for their top graduates to pursue higher studies.

However, this should not encourage an obsession with paper qualifications. Polytechnic students should focus on job-relevant skills instead as the marketplace changes rapidly. In the last two years, for example, degree holders here have found themselves the most vulnerable to losing their jobs, among all qualification groups.

Experts cite reasons such as a demand for non-academic skills and the restructuring of industries.

In March, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin cautioned against a graduate glut which is being seen in South Korea and Taiwan, resulting in "over-educated and under-employed" people.

Polytechnics provide both academic and hands-on skills training, which helps make their graduates less vulnerable to retrenchment. Also, their starting pay has gone up. Fresh graduates from the five local polytechnics saw an increase in their starting salaries in 2013, compared to the year before. Some poly graduates might value industry experience to enhance their earning capacity and to acquire entrepreneurial skills. Others will seek higher academic qualifications for a chosen career path. What all would find beneficial is a deeply ingrained impulse to pursue lifelong learning as jobs are transformed by the demands of an ever-changing economy. In the new work environment, a gilt-edged diploma alone might carry less weight than the proven ability to creatively apply learnt concepts to practical problems.