COME 2009, when the next batch of Dragon Year boys is about to enter university, there will be enough undergraduate places for one in four students.
This is one year ahead of the target to give subsidised university education to 25 per cent of Singaporeans yearly.
Who's on the team
Adviser: Dr Tony Tan, chairman of MOE International Academic Advisory Panel and the National Research Foundation
Chairman: RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew, Minister of State for Education
- Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Permanent Secretary, Education
- Mr Leo Yip, Permanent Secretary, Manpower
- Mr Peter Ong, Permanent Secretary, Trade and Industry
- Mr Ko Kheng Hwa, managing director, Economic Development Board
- Mr Wong Ngit Liong, chairman & CEO, Venture Corporation; and chairman, National University of Singapore Board of Trustees
- Mr Koh Boon Hwee, chairman, DBS Group Holdings; and chairman, Nanyang Technological University Board of Trustees
- Mr Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman, Banyan Tree Holdings; and chairman, Singapore Management University Board of Trustees
- Prof Bertil Andersson, provost, Nanyang Technological University
- Prof Cham Tao Soon, chancellor and chairman, SIM University
- Mr Kwa Chong Seng, chairman and managing director, ExxonMobil Asia-Pacific
- Dr Liu Thai Ker, director, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers
Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew yesterday said that the Government has been studying the manpower needs of the economy, and has been in talks with the universities to ensure they are ready.
'We've been working with universities to make sure we are able to gradually increase these numbers without affecting quality of education, without impinging on the quality of university experience. So both in terms of facilities, manpower in the universities, in terms of manpower needs of the economy, all these point towards the possibility of meeting the target in 2009 instead of 2010.'
He added the change was also partly made after looking at the situation this year. The swell in Dragon Year girls entering university - without the two-year break for boys for national service - led to questions being raised by parents about an admissions crunch. 'We felt that aspirations of the people was something we wanted to look at a little more closely.'
The Chinese believe that the Dragon Year of the Chinese almanac is auspicious, and it usually sees a spike in the nation's birth rate. This year's squeeze was felt in popular courses like business, even though more places had been set aside.
MOE's target is to increase the number of publicly funded university places to cater to 30 per cent of each cohort by 2015.Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui has been tasked to lead a committee to study how the university sector can be expanded.
Yesterday, he got down to work with his committee members, looking at the broad, long-term economic and manpower needs of Singapore in putting forward the proposal.
He added that it was essential to maintain the high quality and reputation of the universities and graduates, and to ensure the new institutions add a diversity of pathways for students. Among the options: a fourth publicly funded university; a few niche campuses as affiliates to existing universities; a liberal arts college; and getting the polytechnics to tie up with specialised institutions to offer degree programmes in niche areas.
Converting polytechnics into universities is not being considered, said RADM Lui, because similar examples in Britain have found the 'transition very difficult'.
'Our polytechnics are a distinct feature of our education system...That's something we should retain and enhance.'
He said the committee's work, which will be ready by the end of June, will also increase the proportion of poly students making it to local universities from the current 15 per cent.
Endorsing the broad approach taken by the committee, adviser to the committee Dr Tony Tan said the 'shape and size' of the university sector in 10 to 20 years time would be a vital factor for Singapore's development.
'In this modern world, economic activity follows talent. So the expansion of the university sector is to fulfil the role of the universities as a driver of Singapore's economy.
'If we develop our university sector well...it will create a more lively Singapore and enhance our economic activities.'
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