SINGAPORE - Fresh graduates from private schools continue to fall behind their counterparts from public universities, even as more of them are doing part-time work, a survey on employment outcomes has found.
Nearly half of them - 47.4 per cent - found full-time permanent work six months after finishing their studies, compared with 78.4 per cent for their peers from three publicly-funded universities - the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU).
They also fared worse than post-national service polytechnic graduates, who recorded a 64 per cent full-time employment rate.
The survey released on Tuesday (April 3) by the Committee for Private Education also found that the private school graduates earned median gross starting salaries of $2,650 a month, below the $3,400 for graduates of NUS, NTU and SMU. Post-NS polytechnic graduates took home $2,480 a month.
Some 37 per cent of 10,171 private school students who graduated from full-time external degree programmes between May 2016 and April 2017, responded to the survey conducted from November last year to February. Of the respondents, 2,800 were fresh graduates.
They were asked about their employment status six months after finishing their final examinations, including the nature of their jobs and starting salaries. It is mandatory for all private education institutions offering external degree programmes to take part in the survey.
A total of 42 private schools took part in the exercise, of which 30 had graduates from full-time external degree programmes.
The survey showed that, overall, 79 per cent of fresh private school graduates were employed - full-time, part-time, or on a temporary or freelance basis within six months of finishing their examinations. This compares with the 88.9 per cent overall employment rate of graduates from public universities.
The latest survey results come after a previous survey of private school graduates by the committee released in November last year. That was the first poll of its kind, which found that six in 10 graduates from private education institutions were hired full time six months after completing their final examinations. Their median starting pay was $2,550 a month.
However, Mr Brandon Lee, director-general (private education), SkillsFuture Singapore, noted that last year's results are not comparable with the latest findings, as the respondents were polled during different time periods. The Committee for Private Education comes under SkillsFuture Singapore, a statutory board.
While noting that the profile of students differs across private schools, Mr Lee added: "Overall, we've gotten enough survey responses to make sure that the information that we have published is representative of the sector as a whole."
This year's survey had a higher response rate than the 32 per cent in the first edition, said Mr Lee, adding SSG would continue to study the survey findings in detail.
The latest survey found that the proportion of graduates in part-time and temporary employment grew to 27.9 per cent, from 21.5 per cent in the previous survey.
Slightly more - 3.7 per cent - are also doing freelance work, up from 2.7 per cent previously.
Mr Lee encouraged private education institutions to look at the results and "review how they might want to improve their business model". For instance, they could review their course offerings to make them more industry-relevant, provide better internship opportunities and greater support in their students' career search, he said.
"Very broadly, certain more specialised fields like computing do see better outcomes both in terms of salaries and employment outcomes," he said.
Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said reputation issues are always a concern for private university graduates.
“Unless they go into specialisations that are hot like data analysts in the technology and IT domain, they will find it a challenge to level up to the autonomous university graduates,” he said.
Noting that private school graduates only earn slightly more than polytechnic graduates, Mr Leong said it may be better to work first, or to opt for a programme that lets them work and study at the same time.
“Work and learn, then upgrade with an applied degree may be a better option. It does not pay off to get degrees that may sometimes not be recognised. It’s both money and time wasted.”
Private schools contacted said they will take reference from the results, although they noted that the survey does not cover part-time students and working adults, which make up a sizeable proportion of their student populations.
Associate Professor Rhys Johnson, chief operating officer and provost of Kaplan Singapore, said more than 60 per cent of its students are working adults.
Some larger players like the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) conduct their own surveys. SIM's latest survey showed better outcomes for its own graduates - 82.7 per cent of its graduates in 2016 found jobs within six months of completing degree studies. It will soon launch a study to track the job prospects of their alumni five years after graduation.
Schools said they will review their programmes to ensure they stay relevant.
Prof Johnson said Kaplan will continue to work closely with the Government and industry to address demands for certain skills and knowledge.
PSB Academy's chief executive Derrick Chang said in the past two years, it has focused on developing more skills-based programmes in specialised disciplines, in line with Singapore's industry transformation maps.
"The shift from broad-based learning, to specialised courses from life and sports sciences, to cyber security and nursing, have given us the opportunity to nurture niche talents with applied skills who can contribute to the country's high growth industries," he said.
Dr R Theyvendran, secretary-general of Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), said the school is looking to have 100 new industry partnerships by 2020 to provide avenues for students to gain practical experience and develop relevant skills.
It also has plans to introduce skills-based vocational programmes and short workshops or courses for students and working adults to upgrade their skills. Students can also look forward to more overseas opportunities such as exchange programmes to Uzbekistan, he said.
Ms Jasmine Lu, who holds an honours degree in business studies in management from the University College Dublin, one of Kaplan’s partners, said she was one of the “lucky ones” in her course to secure a full-time job as an exhibition guide as soon as she finished her studies in 2016.
The 24-year-old said the survey results are not surprising. “In my job search, I have encountered instances in the civil service that omits you from positions if you are a private school graduate. But private companies do not bank so much on the university certificate." she said.
Despite her starting salary being below the median pay for private school graduates, Ms Lu, who had qualified for certain courses at the local universities, said she would have still chosen the private route as she wanted a “fast-track degree programme”.
“The initial pay may not be far off from polytechnic graduates, but in certain organisations, a degree from an accredited university, or a good honours degree, plays a part in the rate of career progression,” she said.