Education in Singapore

Meeting market needs

Polytechnics in Singapore are a good example of how vocational education institutions serve students and industries
Roopinder Singh

Singapore is becoming an increasingly popular destination for a section of Indian students and nowadays, there are many such students in this city-state that has an area of less than 700 square kilometres.

“Indian students always want to know about placements,” recalls John Greogry Conceicao, Director, Education Services, Singapore Tourism Board. “We were initially not familiar with the issue because in Singapore you get a job when you finish your education.” He should know, he has spent many a day doing roadshows, and taking part in education fairs, talks etc., in India, promoting Singapore as an education destination.

During a recent visit, at the invitation of Singapore Education, this writer learnt of how the number of seats allocated for a particular course depends on the projections, made by the labour department, regarding the kind of skills that would be needed in the next few years.

Polytechnics are the main vehicle of providing educational training that is useful to the industry and they are far more glamorous and better equipped that their counterparts in India. Add to that the lure of a job on completion of your course and you have something that Indian students are finding increasingly attractive, especially since the annual tuition fee is less than Rs 75,000 per annum. Of course, this does not include living and other expenses.

The Singapore Polytechnic is the oldest. It has been providing training to technologists since 1954. Dr Rajnish Gupta is senior lecturer there and not only have his students been doing well in manufacturing and programming robots that have won various championships, his department also acts as a demonstration centre for young school children. They also sell the robots they make, and are particularly proud of a sale they made to an IIT some years ago.

The Schools of Business, Chemical and Life Sciences, Design, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the Built Environment, Info-Communications Technology, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, and the Singapore Maritime Academy are especially popular with students. Scholarships are awarded, and as expected only a few very gifted students get them.

Rupal Shah at the PSB Academy looks after a fairly large brood of Indian students. Over 30,000 individuals attend courses at the PSB Academy every year.

Tourism and hospitality have been identified as growth industries in Singapore. Which would be the best location to house the Tourism Academy? Of course, it would be the resort island of Sentosa. You take an old dilapidated barrack of the British Army that dates back to World War II and refurbish it at the cost of a few million dollars to make state-of-the-art class rooms and facilities. Then you attract students from all over the world, 18 countries in this case, and train them.

Sunayna Bhambhani is a good example of an international student. She finished her schooling in Africa, came back to Singapore, where her parents live. She wants to work in India after she has finished her course. Vahid is from Kerala. He would like to go back to India, “because they need me there.” The fees for the two-year Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Business is around Rs 3.5 lakh per annum and you can apply after completing 12 years of education.

Education in Singapore is not cheap, but it is not as expensive as other places, like the UK, USA and even Australia. Many students spoke of how they got international exposure even though they were not that far away from home. Some Indian students said that they had been cheated by real estate agents who had taken commissions to get them housing, but failed to provide them with proper accomodation. To be fair, most of the students did not have such experiences and the general refrain was the place was safe.

Many of the students that we met were on scholarships, called tuition grants, which are available to foreign students. You can get as much as 65-80 per cent off the full tuition fees and are required to fill a bond which requires you to work there for three years.

The Temasek Polytechnic offers 38 diplomas to around 13,000 students. The beautiful campus is obviously attractive to many students, and there around 200 students there. Petite Shilpa Krishnan from Bhanswara in Rajasthan stands out among a group of boys, most students of mechatronics, combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and software engineering. The students say that “problem-based learning” and cross-disciplinary teaching are the two highlights of how they are being educated.

While we are seeing all these institutions and meeting satisfied students, one thought that came in or mind again and again why was it that we, with our tradition of fine education, did not devote enough attention to polytechnics. When a diploma holder, taught and trained in the skills needed by the industry, is required, then why is it that we insist on having a graduate? Everyone studies so as to get a job, why not tailor the jobs to meet the requirements of the market?

Sandeep Chauhan, who is a partner in a Chandigarh-based software company,recently said he had looked at over a thousand resumes of prospective candidates for an entry-level position. They were diploma holders, but were unemployable, because they did not have the required skills, an inevitable result of a mismatch between the needs of the industry and the curriculum. The mindset has to change and education has to become much more proactive if we have to compete in the global marketplace.

This article was published in

The Tribune on December 11, 2007