He said that the pandemic “has raised questions about the value of a university education” as well as had an effect on traditional models of teaching.
It also “raised a lot more questions about how an undergraduate education should be delivered and how we can achieve better learning outcomes or our students.”
In his interview, he added that the skills learned in university may grow irrelevant quickly, due to rapid developments.
Therefore, a university education should not just be about preparation for one particular job, but should instead provide “broader skillsets” to equip a student for life, including communication skills, innovation, creativity and other “fundamental skills that are cross-cutting.”
Mr Wong told ST that additional places were offered in the country’s six autonomous universities last year, given that a number of Singaporean students could not study overseas as they had planned.
Other students who had received diplomas from polytechnics chose to go on to universities last year as well, rather than compete for employment in a weakened job market.
This may happen this year too, he added, if the situation remains the same.
The Education Minister also emphasised that getting a university education is not a prerequisite for work.
Those who wish to attend university may do so later on, he added.
“We have been talking about SkillsFuture and lifelong learning. 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 any time through your working life.
I expect some proportion of students will still do that – to go to university for their first degree before going out to work, but increasingly you will see more pathways for students to go for further studies when they are older, in the course of their working life,” he told ST.
Also, the funding for education does not require students to obtain their degrees in four years, and if they desire to take some time off for other endeavours, provided the university “agrees that it’s useful,” he said.
The minister added that this does not mean there will be no time limit for students to finish their degree.
Mr Wong also talked to ST about his own experience as an undergraduate.
He had been told by his parents that he would need to get a scholarship if he wanted to study overseas, and therefore “grabbed” the chance with a PSC (Public Service Commission) scholarship.
He obtained both his undergraduate and masters degrees in the United States.
At first Mr Wong enrolled in a diverse range of classes, later settling into economics.
He told ST he “started delving more into macroeconomics, the quantitative aspects of economic modelling, understanding fiscal and monetary policies, and later on, the Singapore model of economic development.”
The minister added this bit of advice to students, “start with a broad education, enjoy your learning, but also specialise in an area you are interested in and ensure you acquire deep knowledge and skills in it.”
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