graduates throwing their graduation hats

SINGAPORE:  The great majority of young Singaporeans believe in the enduring importance of obtaining a university degree for themselves and their future children.

This was found in the TODAY Youth Survey 2023, which polled 1,000 respondents aged 18 to 35.

The significance of a university degree

The survey revealed that 76 percent of the youth respondents expect their children or future children to obtain a university degree. This statistic highlights the belief in the value of higher education as a stepping stone towards a successful life.

In addition, 69 percent of the surveyed youths considered having a degree a necessary prerequisite for achieving success in Singapore.

Despite the government’s efforts to promote alternative pathways to success, this finding suggests that traditional views on higher education remain entrenched in the minds of many.

Socioeconomic influence

The survey results reveal the influence of socioeconomic status on the expectations and aspirations of young Singaporeans regarding university degrees. Well-educated and more affluent individuals have higher expectations for their children’s educational achievements.

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Dr. Vincent Chua, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), suggests that a class gap in aspirations exists and that in a more equal society, class should not determine one’s dreams.

Here are the specific findings:

  • 95 percent of respondents with a monthly household income of S$20,000 or more expect their children to pursue a university degree.
  • 92 percent of those with a monthly household income between S$15,000 and S$19,999 share this expectation.
  • 86 percent of those holding a degree or higher education level have the same aspiration.
  • 82 percent of individuals living on private property expect their future children to follow a similar educational path.

Conversely, individuals from less privileged backgrounds or with lower educational qualifications have lower expectations regarding their children’s university education:

  • 68 percent of those with a monthly household income of less than S$4,000 anticipate their children obtaining a university degree.
  • 65 percent of those with a secondary-level education or lower hold this expectation.
  • 57 percent of those with a polytechnic diploma or equivalent share the same view.
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While the survey reveals a widespread expectation for university degrees, it also shows that many young Singaporeans regard degrees as a means to open initial job opportunities. They understand that degrees are ultimately just a “foot in the door.”

Gabriel Wong, a 23-year-old information systems student at Singapore Management University, emphasises the importance of practical skills and networking. He mentions that some successful professionals attribute their achievements more to “specialised skills, networking, and practical experience” rather than formal education.

Skills-first approach

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on a “skills first” hiring approach. When evaluating talent, this approach values an individual’s skills and competencies above their degrees or academic backgrounds. However, it’s essential to note that this shift does not diminish the importance of university degrees but instead highlights the evolving nature of the job market.

Dr Chua from NUS asserts that degrees remain significant, especially as society transitions towards a knowledge-based economy. He states, “The importance of degrees will only grow,” even as more individuals obtain degrees. Degrees are seen as a basic necessity in this evolving landscape.

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Ms Shalynn Ler, Singapore general manager of executive search firm Ethos BeathChapman, acknowledges this shift towards a skills-first approach. She notes that values are gradually shifting towards focusing on various aspects of success alongside academic results. However, the influence of academic results on success remains deeply ingrained, especially among younger generations who grew up in an environment where these factors were closely tied to achievement.

To explore the survey’s findings further, TODAY will be conducting live discussions on Oct 19 and 20./TISG

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