Universities to admit more based on aptitude: Ong Ye Kung

NUS, NTU and SMU to assess students more broadly as part of move away from largely grade-based admissions

A photo taken in 2017 showing students from the Nanyang Technological University having a group discussion.

In a few years, as many as half of the undergraduates admitted to three universities here may be selected on their aptitude and interest in the courses they apply for, as institutions move away from largely grade-based admission schemes.

As part of the transition, the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) will no longer offer discretionary admissions from this year, a scheme that sets aside 15 per cent of places for students who fall short of the entry cut-off score but who may have other achievements.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, announcing the move at the Applied Learning Conference yesterday at Marina Bay Sands, said that such schemes primarily still assess students on whether they meet the academic cut-off point of the courses and "strictly speaking, this is different from aptitude-based admission".

Mr Ong said the universities will instead from this year assess students more broadly using aptitude-based admissions, covering as many courses as possible.

He said the universities should move in the same direction as NTU, which recently committed to extending aptitude-based admissions to 50 per cent of each intake over the next few years.

"To enable more porosity across pathways, our admission system needs to rely less on academic grades and more on other meritorious yardsticks, so that the full range of an individual's aptitude and attributes can be taken into account," he said.

He noted that NUS and NTU, which together took in more than 13,000 students last year, are increasingly using aptitude-based admissions and can now confidently identify students who possess the skills, competencies and passion to do well in their chosen courses.

Mr Ong also announced a shorter pathway for A-level students who are considering enrolment in a polytechnic. About 200 do so every year, and many usually after they have failed to gain admission to university.

Last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that A-level students headed to the polytechnics can apply for course exemptions, potentially shaving six months off a three-year diploma programme. It also allowed them to apply for a polytechnic place in August, six months after collecting their results in February, instead of waiting for the following year to enrol. They can then start on their diploma studies in the second semester in October.

MOE will go further this year. Some 56 diploma courses will have their durations cut even shorter to two years after the appropriate module exemptions. This means that A-level students accepted to these courses may begin year two in October of the same year and graduate two years later.

Mr Ong also announced more pathways to help individuals in the workforce access courses in the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Currently, workers who have part-time Nitec, part-time Higher Nitec and Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) are not eligible to take up full-time diplomas offered by the polytechnics and ITE. From next year, those with these qualifications and at least a year of work experience can be considered for entry into full-time diplomas at the polytechnics and ITE.

He also announced that similar to working adults who can enrol in full-time polytechnic diploma programmes, MOE will also extend such work experience-based admissions to those with ITE technical engineer diplomas and technical diplomas, as well as part-time diplomas at the polytechnics.

Referring to the German education system, which offers highly porous and flexible pathways to students, without closing off future upgrading options, he stressed that educational pathways are like "different expressways bringing us to different destinations".

He said: "There also needs to be smaller roads connecting the expressways, so that if you decide to switch from one to another, it is possible to do so, even if it means spending more time on your journey."

He said the new initiatives will bring the Singapore education system "closer to having a flexible and porous system of inter-connected pathways".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2020, with the headline Universities to admit more based on aptitude: Ong Ye Kung. Subscribe