askST Jobs: Work-study, specialist, advanced, postgraduate – which diploma variant to pick?

Diplomas are not just three-year programmes conferred by polytechnics and targeted at secondary school-leavers now. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

In this series, manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career. Get more tips by signing up to The Straits Times’ HeadSTart newsletter.

Q: How do I choose the right diploma for my career and learning needs, with the rise of new variants conferred by polytechnics and other institutions?

A: Diplomas are not just three-year programmes conferred by polytechnics and targeted at secondary school-leavers now.

Instead, new variants like work-study diplomas, advanced diplomas, specialist diplomas and postgraduate diplomas have come about.

Moreover, some are issued by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), local autonomous universities, or private education providers, rather than polytechnics.

The rise in the range and variety of diplomas, as well as conferring organisations, is meant to promote lifelong learning and employability for Singaporeans, says Dr Betsy Ng, education research scientist at the National Institute of Education’s Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice.

In Singapore’s educational landscape, the work-study diploma has been offered by ITE to its graduates since 2018.

These diplomas blend academic study with practical work experience to prepare students for specific job roles in industries like engineering and healthcare, says Dr Samson Tan, director of the learning and professional development division at the Institute for Adult Learning.

Meanwhile, Dr Ng says advanced diploma and specialist diploma courses are both designed to enable existing diploma or degree holders to deepen their knowledge and skills, as well as specialise within their trained disciplines.

Lastly, a postgraduate diploma represents an advanced academic achievement pursued after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, Dr Tan notes.

“It focuses on a specialised subject area and is characterised by the absence of a research component, which is typically found in a master’s degree programme,” he adds.

Dr Ng says postgraduate diplomas are pegged at an education level above a bachelor’s degree but below a master’s degree, and can be completed within a year.

Those considering taking up postgraduate diplomas typically do so in the hope that the things they learn can help them perform in more senior, or specialised, positions in their field, seek new employment or complement their existing qualification, she adds.

Meanwhile, postgraduate degrees are typically targeted at those in management or research-related roles, she notes.

Comparing postgraduate diplomas with postgraduate degrees like master’s or doctoral degrees, Dr Tan says the degrees involve extensive research and theoretical study, often spanning several years.

He adds: “In contrast, postgraduate diplomas are shorter in duration, typically focusing on practical skills and specific training within a particular field.

“While postgraduate degrees may offer broader career opportunities, postgraduate diplomas can provide valuable, immediately applicable skills relevant to specific industries.”

Dr Tan also says diplomas issued by the ITE, polytechnics and universities are all industry-recognised programmes, and present value to employers across different sectors based on job requirements and industry context.

He advises: “When deciding on the right diploma, it is important to consider your career goals, interests and the relevance of the diploma to the industry you are interested in.

“It is also important to compare the various similar diplomas offered by different institutions in detail. Factors to consider include the curriculum, mode of study, and the potential for further education or career advancement.”

He suggests learners seek out past graduates to better understand whether the course is suitable for them, too.

“Each of these diplomas caters to different stages of an individual’s educational and professional journey, providing pathways tailored to various career aspirations and learning preferences.”

Have a question? Send it to

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.