Young S'poreans split on getting a degree or working first, citing starting pay, parents as pressure points

There will be more opportunities for younger Singaporeans to get university degrees later in life. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While there will be more opportunities for younger Singaporeans to get university degrees later in life, they are still split on whether to continue studying or enter the working world.

On March 7, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is considering allowing more working adults to get places in government-funded degree programmes.

This gives more options to learners looking to gain work experience before pursuing a degree, said education research scientist Betsy Ng from the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Said Dr Ng: "Some of us may need a longer learning process to find our career identity and choice of a profession."

Some, like Jacob Tseng, 18, a second-year junior college student at Hwa Chong Institution, said the move will allow people to explore their passions instead of being pressurised to pursue a degree immediately after leaving school or completing national service.

He said: "Currently, most people choose to follow their peers in a race to the top universities due to a fear of missing out, even if they don't have a clear idea of what direction they want to take after graduating."

Others, like Mr Ezra Ho, 20, who will graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic this year, said he plans to get a university degree straight after completing national service.

Mr Ho, who is working as a retail manager at electronics store Challenger while waiting for his enlistment date, said the difference in starting salaries for a diploma holder and a degree holder is his main motivation for getting a degree.

He said that for cyber security - his field of study - the difference is more than $1,000 a month.

He added: "With my poly grades, I have only a 30 to 40 per cent chance of getting into the local universities, so I'll be looking at other options, like (studying in) Australia or the United Kingdom."

Parental expectations also affect the young adults' decision.

Ms Su Thet Hnin San, 21, second-year student at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU, said: "I would be open to working first before going to university if it was more beneficial than going straight to university. But... my parents might feel like I am wasting my time."

Still, digital film and television student Tian Sundermann, 18, said MOE's move to allow more working adults to take up places at Singapore's universities sends an important signal to society.

The first-year Temasek Polytechnic student said: "It's a positive shift because the default decision for Singapore's middle class is to get a university degree.

"I think it's good to encourage diversity because there are many pathways in life, not just making it to the Express stream in secondary school and getting a degree."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.