Singaporeans planning to go to private educational institutions received some advice from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: Do your homework and ensure the degree you choose is rigorous in standard, valuable and "where you can, which has jobs available".
Otherwise, there is a risk of not being able to find a job relevant to the qualifications, he indicated at a live MediaCorp television forum last night when responding to a question on the increase in degree holders caught in such a dilemma.
The paper chase has come under scrutiny recently amid worries that Singaporeans are chasing degrees that may not give them the skills that are in demand.
This, however, is not the case at Singapore's four universities: National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Mr Lee said: "We make sure the standards are there and that we are training people in right courses, more or less in the right numbers."
But for those studying for private degrees, he cautioned: "You have to do your own homework and make sure that you study for a degree which is rigorous, which is valuable, and where you can, which has jobs available."
Official statistics show that around one-third of those who got their degrees in Singapore last year had obtained them from private educational institutions.
Mr Lee reiterated that not every degree will guarantee a job.
What counts is a person's skills, knowledge and productivity. "If you have that and your degree has helped you to have that, then I think it will be okay."
For most jobs, performance ought to matter more than a degree, he said. "Whether you are a graduate or not should not be so critical as to whether you are performing or not," he told an unemployed man who was a civil servant and felt there was a glass ceiling based on his qualifications.
He noted the Government's plans to merge the graduate and non-graduate schemes to give civil servants a chance to progress on the same career track.
But the move has prompted some concerns, he said, recalling a dialogue with unionists last week. "One of them said, if you put me with the degree holders, they talk better, they write better, so what about me?"
Mr Lee also said the Government's recent move to redefine success beyond paper qualifications is starting to take effect.
"Parents are more open-minded," he said, pointing to competition to get into schools such as Lasalle College of the Arts and Singapore Sports School.
But at the same time, these parents are justified in asking their children to think about what they want to do after they graduate.
"It is sensible to worry where your next meal is going to come from," he said.
"If we all go and smell roses, who is going to feed us?"
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