The Ministry of Education (MOE) will be reviewing the funding and delivery arrangements of master's programmes at the autonomous universities.
This is partly due to the fact that funding of over $70 million will be redirected towards providing continuing education and training under a new SkillsFuture scheme over the next three years.
Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung announced this at the Lifelong Learning Festival yesterday, where the new SkillsFuture Series of bite-sized courses targeting key sectors of growth was launched.
"As we invest more in industry-relevant, modular training for adult workers, we face the reality of a finite budget, and the need for prioritisation," he said, noting that the changes will take place no earlier than 2019.
Funding levels for programmes with coursework components that are "purely academic" in nature will have to be relooked, while coursework that could be vocation-based could be delivered in a bite-sized format that can be accumulated and lead to graduate certifications.
Some of the universities, such as Singapore Management University (SMU), are already doing this. SMU Academy, the university's lifelong learning unit, will be offering financial technology modules that can be "stacked up" towards a Master of IT in Business.
SMU provost Lily Kong said the university expects adults pursuing non degree-awarding professional continuing education to make up about two-thirds of SMU's student population by 2025. Undergraduates will make up from a fifth to a quarter of the population, with the rest in postgraduate study at the master's or doctoral level.
At SMU Academy, about two-thirds of its 80 or so courses will be offered under the SkillsFuture Series and enrolment is likely to hit 5,000 by the end of next March.
440,000 Total training hours for subsidised bite-sized modules in 2017.
2.2 million Projected total training hours delivered through SkillsFuture Series in 2020.
Professor Ho Yew Kee, Singapore Institute of Technology's associate provost for SkillsFuture and staff development, said the university is exploring the possibility of a stack-up model for its bite-sized continuing education courses that may eventually lead to an academic qualification that is recognised by the industry.
National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said that the expansion of skills-based continuing education does not necessarily have to come at the expense of the production of academic research, or the delivery of more academic-based programmes. Fruitful research projects could develop when there is a deeper understanding of the evolving needs of industries, he said.
"Just as research informs teaching, teaching necessarily also informs research. Through the course of working with adult learners and having a deeper understanding of the evolving needs of industries, fruitful research projects in many areas may develop," added Dr Seah.
Mr Felix Tan, managing director of corporate financial technology accelerator The FinLab, said that such bite-sized courses can offer potential industry entrants an understanding of what the job may entail.
"Unless you've had strong prior work experience, it's hard to expect someone new (to the industry) to be able to hit the ground running after attending these short courses."