NUS, NTU's new ratings 'won't sway bosses much'

Students studying at a common area at National University of Singapore (NUS).
Students studying at a common area at National University of Singapore (NUS).ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Varsities already have strong reputation, but latest results could boost enrolment: Experts

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have shot up into the top 13 of an annual ranking of the world's top universities, but the fine showing may do little to improve their already strong reputation among employers here. 

In the latest World University Rankings, released by London-based education consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) on Tuesday, NUS and NTU came in at 12th and 13th respectively.

Last year, NUS was placed 22nd, while NTU took 39th spot in the same global rankings. 

Recruitment consultants said graduates from Singapore's two oldest universities are highly sought after by employers, and the great leap may not necessarily drive up their already high employability.

"I am unsure how much higher their employability can get when it is already so near to the ceiling," explained Mr Adrian Tan, career coach at CareerLadder.

He added that the stellar performance, however, might motivate companies beyond Singapore to look at NUS and NTU graduates as new pipelines of talent.

"But the rankings can change," he said. "I would like to believe that employers choose the right person for a role, not necessarily the best one."

Human resource experts say employers often consider attributes like initiative, teamwork and experience, such as from internships. Having a degree from a top-ranked university is merely a bonus.

Mr Timolty Chai, senior consultant at Careerhub Consultants, said: "Those with NUS and NTU degrees would have a slight advantage due to their reputation but, ultimately, it is important for candidates to show what they have to bring to their prospective employers."

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo added that employers' hiring preference often depends on the type of job, and if the degree is a match for that role. "Whatever the pedigree of the university, it is the graduate's performance on the job that matters in the long haul," she said.

However, most experts agreed that the stellar performance in the rankings would at least enhance the NUS and NTU brands globally, and convince more students, including foreign ones, to enrol at them. 

Hays Singapore's managing director Lynne Roeder said demand for graduates from local universities is "extremely high", adding: "It is expected that there will be more A-level students choosing to stay in Singapore to pursue their degrees locally because of the employability and reputation."

In the list, topped by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, NUS and NTU placed ahead of established American powerhouses such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. They are the only two Asian institutions to make the top 20. 

Pioneer Junior College student Darren Tan, who is taking his A levels this year, might consider taking up an engineering degree at NTU.

"We have one of the best education systems," said Mr Tan, 18. "Prestigious universities like Yale and Cornell may have been popular choices among students because of their strong reputation, but now, NUS and NTU have caught up ."

The impressive gains made by NUS and NTU against their Western counterparts are partly due to an adjustment in the way research citation is assessed. But QS added that both institutions would have improved even without the change.

Some academics believe that the two universities may just be able to climb further up the rankings.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said: "Compared with established brands like MIT, Oxford and Cambridge, our universities are still young. But we are heading in the right direction."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'NUS, NTU's new ratings 'won't sway bosses much''. Print Edition | Subscribe