Sun, Sep 06, 2009
The Straits Times
It should stay private

THE Government's move to centralise the 48 Continuing Education and Training (CET) centres into two main campuses ('Cluster training for adults at new centres', Aug 21) raises two questions:

What will the Government's role in the new set-up be, and should the Government be directly involved in the training business?

The Government's role should be regulatory, that is, accreditation and enforcement. It could promote PPP (private-public sector partnership). As a facilitator, it could provide the platform for private enterprise to develop rather than take it over.

Previously, the Productivity and Standards Board, the predecessor of Spring Singapore, had training and accreditation programmes like Fast Forward to train people to be proficient trainers. Then it got involved in other training businesses which were not aligned to its original strategy.

The same can be said for the Ministry of Defence, when it started its own training arm, presumably for strategic or security reasons. Now that it has hived off this function to its sister company with long-term contracts, one wonders if its training requirements merit special treatment. The Institute of Public Administration and Management conducts many courses for the civil service, many of which duplicate what is provided by the private sector.

These entities wield significant clout with captive clientele and offer lower pricing. It is well established that the free-market system is the most efficient. An entity with a captive market may not be hungry to remain efficient and nimble. It takes a spirit of enterprise to innovate and yet remain competitive.

While it is not clear what the Government would do for the new CET centres, perhaps it could consider providing the necessary infrastructure, which the private sector may not be able to provide. The premise could be leased out in parts for serious-minded training providers to use, improve and innovate. And the Government should continue to do what it does best - regulate.

James Koh

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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