Budget debate: MP apologises, says 'time stamp for degree' idea more provocative than needed

In his speech in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Ang Wei Neng had called for university graduates here to be required to attend upgrading courses every five years. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - MP Ang Wei Neng apologised on Thursday (March 3) after a suggestion he made in Parliament to have a time stamp on degrees by institutes of higher learning (IHLs) attracted widespread criticism.

Speaking on the second day of the Budget debate on Tuesday (March 1), Mr Ang had called for university graduates here to be required to attend upgrading courses every five years.

In a written reply to The Straits Times, he said: “The idea of the time stamp is meant to be provocative to ‘sound scary’ and draw attention to the importance of lifelong (learning) and (is) not a (policy) recommendation.

“In hindsight, I recognise that it had been more provocative than needed and had caused people to misunderstand the intentions behind the suggestion. I apologise for the misunderstanding.”

Mr Ang, who represents West Coast GRC, said the aim of his speech in Parliament was “to bring attention to the reality of pre-employment qualifications today, and the urgency for greater uptake of lifelong learning”.

While certificates are valid for life, the knowledge and skill sets of certificate holders need to be continually refreshed and updated so that they can continue to thrive and do well in a fast-changing world, he added.

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In his speech supporting the transformation of IHLs to keep pace with industry on Tuesday, Mr Ang had proposed putting a "time stamp" on degrees conferred by universities, which will entail degrees fading over time and students no longer being able to claim these as credentials.

"If you're serious about continuous training and lifelong learning, we have to be radical about transformation," he said then.

Following his remarks, several flagged concerns that the suggestion may entail paying higher fees to renew university degrees, while encouraging wealthier students to turn to overseas universities where their degrees will not expire.

Others agreed with the need for refresher courses.

Said netizen Christopher Wong: "Just imagine your superior with a 10- to 15-year-old degree trying to tell (you) what to do but having skills that are outdated or not relevant to today's climate.

"Yes, your boss might have 10 to 15 years of experience but that should not stop him or her getting 'refreshed'."

Mr Ang told ST that he was not advocating for people to repeat a basic degree.
“Periodically, the IHLs can offer courses for their graduates to refresh their knowledge, skill sets and industry trends,” he said.

He noted that many professions, such as those in medicine, effectively mandate that degree holders must take up continuous education training through courses and programmes each year or every few years, in order to be able to continue working in the sector.

In his Facebook post, Mr Ang said he has been hearing sentiments both online and offline over the past few days, noting that many Singaporeans are "speaking fervently about this critical yet complex issue".

He said: “Moving forward, the best solutions will be co-created with fellow Singaporeans to explore more viable avenues to future-proof our economy.”

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