It is a matter of disquiet that many of those pursuing degrees and diplomas in the private education sector lag far behind their peers from public universities in the job market. The numbers involved are not negligible, given that 70,000 Singaporeans are taking the private route to a tertiary education. Job prospects, including starting salaries, inevitably depend on perceptions of training institutions. Unlike the public education sector, where standards are better regulated, private schools are of varying quality. Of course, aggregate assessments do not do justice to the excellence of leading private players, whose students do not fare badly at all in the market.
However, the larger point to address is the prospects of students across the private education sector. This is an issue the Council for Private Education ought to ponder. When demand for further education exceeds public sector supply, the private sector has to be managed much better to ensure that valuable resources and painstaking efforts do not go to waste. This can happen when private graduates find themselves jobless for periods of time, are deployed inefficiently, or are asked to take considerable salary cuts. Instead of another layer of bureaucracy, what the private education sector needs is better coordination so the results of future job surveys are not dampening.
Prospective students have been asked to take a hard-headed look at why they are considering private qualifications as there are other pathways available. Students who fail to get a place in a public institution naturally seek a fair chance to compete in the job market via alternative routes. Parents, who are supporting them, then have to dip into precious savings to pay much higher fees to help secure a better future for the young. Hence they deserve every support in weighing different options that are both realistic, taking into account the changing job market, and encouraging where long-term prospects are concerned.
As operating environments change, employers, trainers and educators must give the right signals and consistent messages to current and emerging batches of workers. If human resource departments, for example, focus on just degrees rather than skills in making the first cut, the relentless paper chase will continue. However, when students can see how skills and competencies are being recognised and rewarded in the marketplace, their choices will be more market-oriented. Private educators, being businessmen, could then rely on such demand to offer courses that dovetail with the economy's needs. If they continue to milk customers' hopes based on outdated notions, all will suffer when private qualifications are put to the test of the marketplace. The Council for Private Education should be at the forefront of efforts to drive nimble private practices that are in sync with new economic strategies.