During the Parliament Session on 1 March, Member of Parliament (MP) for the West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Ang Wei Neng suggested what he deems as a “radical idea” of having a “time stamp” on degrees conferred by universities.
Before anyone flips their phone or whatever electronic devices they are reading this on, hear him out first.
He has good reasons for proposing such an idea, which even he admits sounds scary.
Continuous Training and Lifelong Learning
Throughout his speech, MP Ang constantly reiterates the importance of continuous training and lifelong learning.
In the same vein, he believes that Singapore’s Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and employees should also evolve to suit the needs of the ever-changing and dynamic industries which are hurtling towards the common grounds of the technological field.
To support his own claim, he brings up a job applicant for an IT position at his own workplace. The man in his fifties had no relevant diploma or degree in the IT field, and so he was initially put aside by the Human Resource (HR) Department who thought he wouldn’t be a good fit by conventional rubrics.
However, the job applicant’s resume showed that he had a lot of work experience in running IT infrastructure and supporting businesses, as well as the knowledge of the current IT practices.
All these valuable assets were the product of his own self-learning over the years.
When the candidate was eventually hired by the IT Head, he proved his own merit, since he performed very well at his job thereafter.
The skills and real-life experience that the candidate picked up on his own evidently trumped any diploma or degree he could have got three decades ago, which would have been obsolete by now, considering how much the IT industry has grown.
Therefore, Mr Ang reckons that graduates also need to stay relevant by attending upgrading courses every five years or so.
Otherwise, their degrees will start to lose their validity and the graduates can no longer claim the degree as part of their credentials over time.
Current University Curriculum versus Needs of the Industries
As previously mentioned, and repeatedly brought up by Mr Ang during his speech, all companies have to make the transition into becoming tech-savvy.
It is no longer an option but a necessity, exhibited by the market demand and high starting salaries for IT and Public Communications graduates.
Mr Ang summaries that the current university curriculum mainly focuses on:
- Honing the soft skills of its students like their public speaking
- Finding, verifying, and organising the information to present it in a simple and concise manner
- Sharpening social and collaborative skills
- Serves as fertile grounds to source for internships
That being said, Mr Ang proceeds to pose a few pertinent questions and suggestions:
Do we still need a four-year degree course? Should we shorten the degree course?
Should we have more extended and more purposeful internships as part of the transformation of IHL that the Minister of Education was proposing?
How do we involve industry leaders in shaping the curriculum of IHL education, so that the professors and students are more in touch with the needs of the industry?
Can we have the flexibility of converting the second half of the full-time degree course into a part-time degree? What if the students want to extend their internship, or even start work earlier?
The Transformation of Institutes of Higher Learning
For one, Mr Ang points out there is currently an acute shortage of IT staff in Singapore and worldwide.
If IHLs continue to stick to four years to churn out IT graduates, Singapore might not be able to close the gap without importing more foreign IT talents.
Secondly, he supports more purposeful and longer internships where students can become more in touch with the needs of the industry for a few reasons that can be sieved out from the example of his own son.
MP Ang’s son has recently completed his National Service and was supposed to attend university the following August.
During his National Service, he jumped headfirst into the world of cryptocurrency, from block chains, cyber currencies to decentralised financing and stablecoins.
This in-depth knowledge managed to land him a temporary job as an analyst for cryptocurrency before he attended university, and his experience in the workplace led him to defer his university instead, in lieu of pursuing his interests.
His son’s reasoning for his decision was he did not want to miss out on the swift developments of the cryptocurrency industry.
Indirectly, Mr Ang’s son’s decision underscores a flaw that universities might have.
Which is that the university curriculum might not be able to keep up with the fast-paced changes of the industries, and it’s hard to imagine how topics like cryptocurrency—which is still in the cradle of infancy—can be taught in courses with sufficient coherency.
Therefore, hands-on experience is definitely more useful than sitting in lecture theatres and simply learning about the theory of concepts.
Mr Ang adds, “Skill sets, personal experience, and knowledge can take a person very far. Young people may have their own ideas about their own professional development.”
Since there is a shift in the mindsets of young people, then there is a need for IHLs to change to suit the trends, either by changing how its curriculum is structured and how it imparts knowledge, or finding ways to ensure that IHLs is always sensitive to the needs of the industries and change with it.
Of course, Mr Ang doesn’t expect the change to happen overnight.
“But if we are serious about continuous training and lifelong learning, we have to be radical about the transformation.”
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