A major revamp of how working adults are trained for the new economy is under way, with more courses, more funding and a more significant role for Singapore's institutes of higher learning (IHLs).
From an initial 10,000, universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education will take in 50,000 trainees annually for a new series of subsidised bite-sized modules by 2020.
Total training capacity for the scheme, known as SkillsFuture Series, will also grow from 440,000 hours now to 2.2 million hours over the same period.
The Ministry of Education is pumping in $70 million towards this effort over the next three years, with IHLs expected to spend $40 million a year on the SkillsFuture Series by 2020, compared to less than $5 million now.
For a start, each institute will focus on one of eight emerging areas of growth. They include data analytics, which will come under the National University of Singapore, finance (Singapore Management University) and entrepreneurship (Ngee Ann Polytechnic).
More than 400 courses, averaging 25 hours each, have been lined up to kick off the SkillsFuture Series.
The programmes will be delivered as short modules, making them easier for working adults to take. They will be subsidised up to 70 per cent for Singaporeans and permanent residents. The rest of the fee can be paid using the $500 SkillsFuture credit given to every Singaporean above the age of 25 from last year onwards.
Announcing this yesterday, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said the institutions will take the lead in their sector of focus. They will ensure that there are enough training places and programmes to meet the needs of industries.
While the move is a major transformation for the IHLs, it is a necessary one, he said.
Training provided by employers and private operators have become two key pillars of the Continuing Education and Training (CET) landscape, but the institutes of higher learning have lagged behind, he said at the launch of the Lifelong Learning Festival at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability.
IHLs account for just 8 per cent of CET currently, excluding programmes which may be more academic in nature such as part-time diplomas, master's and PhDs.
"It is a pity, given the tremendous delivery capability of the IHLs," he said. But it was also understandable because continuing education and training has never been the remit of IHLs, whose primary mission is to educate students.
That has now changed, he added, with CET now part of the expanded mission of the institutions of higher learning.
The hope is that "the new and unknown can be demystified, and Singaporeans can pick up relevant skills and knowledge of this era, and face the future with greater confidence and enthusiasm".
Courses will be available across basic, intermediate and advanced levels. The bulk of basic courses will cost participants less than $500.
"There will be something for everyone," said Mr Ong, who also pointed out the challenges IHLs will face as they embrace adult learning.
For one thing, they will have to build up expertise in training adults, given that their learning needs are "fundamentally different" from those of students.
In the light of the ministry's finite budget, it will also review the funding of master's programmes that are "purely academic" in nature.