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IAAP Endorses Expansion of University Places Through New Applied Pathway

date:Aug 10,2012 source: editorial staff:linan clicks:


Support for development of social science and humanities research
1.The Ministry of Education (MOE)’s International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP) has expressed support for the preliminary recommendations from the Committee on University Education Pathways beyond 2015 (CUEP). The Committee, chaired by Minister of State for Defence and Education, Mr Lawrence Wong, proposed expanding the university sector by developing a new applied degree pathway, and enhancing Continuing Education and Training (CET) opportunities at the degree level. The panel also discussed proposals to develop social science and humanities research in Singapore.
 
New models within an expanded university sector
2.The Panel emphasised that Singapore’s higher education system had reached a stage of development where it was no longer playing catch up with others. Singapore was also in a unique position of being able to expand its university education. It was imperative to use this opportunity to full advantage, by introducing new models of educational excellence, in order to create a diverse landscape of university offerings for Singaporeans.
 
3.The Panel expressed support for the expansion of publicly-funded university places to meet the aspirations of Singaporeans and the future needs of the Singapore economy and society.
 
4However, the Panel emphasised that the expansion of places had to be in the form of the right type of university education. Drawing on their collective experiences from across Europe, North America and Asia, the Panel members highlighted the risks of rapidly expanding regular, academically-oriented degrees, both in advanced and emerging economies. Expansion had, in some cases, taken place at the expense of relevance to students’ aptitudes and the needs of the economy, or without concomitant resourcing to ensure adequate faculty resources and quality. The consequences in these cases have been high attrition rates, reduced graduate employability and a dilution in the value of new university degrees.
 
5.The Panel hence felt that the expansion of the university sector should not simply be about producing more graduates, but should focus on ensuring quality in education and the development of skills of an applied nature, which would ensure good employment outcomes and careers.
 
6.The Panel therefore supported the development of a university pathway in Singapore with a strong applied focus. New models of applied education should seek to complement the existing universities and offer a unique value proposition. This distinctive model of education should nurture a different type of graduate, one who is practice-oriented and has a strong entrepreneurial and innovative bent.
 
7.It was also critical that future graduates, from both existing and new institutions, were equipped to respond to changes in the economic environment, and the likely prospects of having to change careers during their working lives. In particular, new institutions within an applied pathway must find the right balance between equipping students with specialised, industry-oriented skills, and nurturing more generic skills that enable students to adapt with confidence to shifts in the global economic environment. At the same time, the faculty of such institutions should possess an appropriate mix of academic and industry expertise to deliver this distinct brand of education.
 
8.New institutions should offer a value proposition to students and employers that is different from that of existing universities. They could place special focus on nurturing:
 
■Solutions-directed and problem-solving skills, such as through project-intensive learning, using authentic problems and solutions faced by companies;
■The ability to navigate multi-faceted, complex issues;
■An appreciation of the social context;
■The ability to communicate effectively, work in teams, and operate in cross-cultural environments; and
■A mindset of innovation and entrepreneurship, that constantly looks at problems through different perspectives to find new solutions and business opportunities.
9.The Panel felt that in order for the new institutions to achieve its educational objectives, they could also:
 
■Broaden admissions criteria beyond performance in examinations and identify students with the talent and motivation to flourish in such a pathway.
■Offer students greater flexibility in the pace and mode of education, possibly allowing the combination of full-time and part-time studies according to students’needs and preferences.
■Allow for the possibility of deferred admission for students to gain work experience first. There is value in doing so, as work experience will not only enable students to better appreciate the theory learnt in a classroom, but also help to clarify their career and life objectives, enabling them to make a more considered decision on choice of study.
■Enable mid-career entrants to pick up new skills for new careers.
■Encompass a broad range of disciplines catering to the new and evolving needs of Singapore’s society and economy, such as maritime and aerospace engineering, allied healthcare, early childhood education and social work.
10.The Panel noted that CUEP was exploring the possibility of having the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) pioneer elements of this new proposed pathway, and agreed that there would be synergies in leveraging on SIT by strengthening its existing characteristics into a distinct and coherent model.
 
11.The Panel cautioned against the risk of gradual homogenisation of the university landscape as seen in other countries, where what started out as different models and institutions eventually drifted towards an increasingly similar, academically and research oriented model of universities.
 
12.Taking the broader higher education system into consideration, the Panel emphasised the value in the polytechnics’ current mission of providing a rigorous work-ready education at the diploma level, and the need for continued support for this mission. As Singapore develops a new applied degree pathway that will extend skills and application based education to its highest level, it must not lose the unique strengths of its polytechnic system.
 
13.The Panel also endorsed the strengthening of the degree-level Continuing Education and Training (CET) pathway, noting that this was a vital avenue in a broader CET eco-system for Singaporeans to continually upgrade their skills and remain relevant in a constantly evolving economy. This strengthening should include expanding opportunities for more Singaporeans to upgrade through degrees and specialised programmes at the university level.
 
14Beyond the publicly-funded space, the Panel noted that there was a large private education sector in Singapore. In some countries, public funding has been extended to both the public and private education sector. However, in those systems where there was inadequate regulation of quality, students’ experiences with commercial for-profit entities have been highly uneven. The Panel noted that there was potential to leverage on the private sector for the future expansion of university places in Singapore, but only where programmes of high quality and rigour were available. In this regard, the Panel agreed on the need for a more in-depth study of the private education sector in Singapore.
 
15.The Panel also noted that there was a role for the government to develop and implement a framework for tracking the outcomes of graduates from different programmes and institutions over time, and disclosing such indicators to enable students to make more informed decisions. Observing the general lack of such information in university systems worldwide, the Panel highlighted the opportunity for Singapore to make a potential contribution in this regard.
 
16.The development of the new models focused on delivering quality education would, along with the existing universities, collectively meet the future needs of the Singapore economy and society. It would also promote the continued mobility of Singaporeans across the different pathways in the post-secondary education system, and mobility within careers.
 
Support for Social Science and Humanities Research
17.The Panel supported plans to develop talent and research in the social sciences and humanities, so as to serve Singapore’s future social and economic development.
 
18The Panel saw the need for the establishment of a Research Council that focuses on the social sciences and humanities. However, it is also necessary to build strong linkages to other areas of research excellence in Singapore. These linkages could advance knowledge in areas that are of local and global interest, such as in healthcare services and sustainable development. Competitive funding mechanisms would be necessary to raise the quality of research and develop centres of excellence in the social sciences and humanities.
 
19.The Panel recognised the need for such research to be use-inspired and driven by the needs of society. In particular, it had to provide space for both needs-driven basic research and applied research. Collectively, this portfolio should provide the necessary breadth and depth of research outcomes that could yield results of interest for public policy in Singapore and beyond.
 
20.The Panel felt that Singapore should tap on its unique position to create niches of research excellence in:
 
■Asian societies and markets;
■Management of multi-ethnic social compacts;
■Challenges and opportunities facing cities, especially global cities (e.g. sustainable urban living and social support systems); and
■Comparative studies of governance models and practices. .
 
21.The Panel also discussed the enablers that would be critical to the success of this endeavour. First, it recommended that the framework for research funding should be leveraged on to develop talent in the field of social sciences and humanities. Second, it encouraged both government agencies and other stakeholders in Singapore to contribute towards the development of rich and comprehensive databases in a variety of areas that will inform and inspire research that would yield broader benefits to Singapore and beyond

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