SINGAPORE - The six local universities offered around 1,000 extra places last year as the disruption caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forced students to readjust their plans. The universities will continue to offer additional places this year, if the situation does not change.
This extra enrolment has pushed the student participation rate beyond its stated target of 40 per cent for every student cohort by 2020, which the Government had earlier pledged.
Ministry of Education figures show that the cohort participation rate rose to 42 per cent last year, with 17,500 students being enrolled in the six local universities.
Some of the additional places went to Singaporeans who had initially planned to study overseas while others went to polytechnic diploma holders who opted to study instead of joining a weak job market.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who released the figures in an interview with The Straits Times, had good news for parents worried that the pandemic situation will affect the overseas university plans for this year as well.
He said that his ministry is prepared to make available more places this year too, if the situation continues.
Going forward though, Mr Wong said that planning for university places based on cohort participation rate of 40 per cent - as is currently the case - becomes less relevant.
He said: "We have been talking about SkillsFuture and lifelong learning and opening up different university pathways, including combining work and study.
"So, there's no need to front-load four years of education before you go out to work. You can have a chance to get a university degree or further education, anytime, through your working life."
More undergraduates are taking up work-study degrees which allows them to alternate between work and study, especially at the Singapore Institute of Technology and Singapore University of Social Sciences which offer more of such programmes.
Mr Wong said he expects a proportion of students to still head to university immediately after completing their A-level or polytechnic studies. But he hopes that as other pathways lead to good job prospects, more would take alternate routes.
Students and parents interviewed welcomed the Government providing more university places.
Businessman Jonas Lim, 48, said his polytechnic graduate son may switch to attending a local university instead of heading to the United Kingdom.
"Frankly, I don't have much confidence in the pandemic situation changing by September this year and it is scandalous that overseas universities are charging full fees for online studies.
"I am grateful that MOE acted fast in offering more places."
National Institute of Education Associate Professor Jason Tan said it is good that the Government is opening up multiple routes for further education, but said employers must change their hiring practices before more Singaporeans will take alternate routes.
"It is good that the Government is opening up alternative routes to attain degrees and other tertiary qualifications.
"But employers must be open to hiring those who come through non-traditional routes, as long as they have the necessary skills for the job. If not, this preference for frontloading education before starting work will not change."