Ex-GIC chief economist blasts Minister Ong’s education policy of capping local university graduates as “unimaginative”

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Speaking at a symposium in Switzerland on Thursday, Singapore’s Education Minister, Mr Ong Ye Kung, admitted that the Government caps the proportion of graduates in a cohort at about 30 to 40 per cent, while training the rest for vocations in various industries. This policy he said, has ensured that there is no glut of graduates in Singapore, and has kept graduate unemployment low. The Education Minister’s comments has drawn sharp criticisms from the former chief economist of GIC, Yeoh Lam Keong.

Describing the education policy as “same old unimaginative line”, Mr Yeoh pointed out that “the history of education policy is full of examples of existing policy makers underestimating the skill and education needs of the modern economy and overestimating their ability to forecast them.”

Mr Yeoh said Singapore’s education policy was very similar to America’s yesteryear one, where it was thought that their universal education policy was producing too many graduates which would lead to unemployment and dissatisfaction. This was later proven to be false.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for example, has urged students to graduate with a university degree, touting it as “a much surer path to success.” This despite him never finishing college. Mr Gates in pointing to a  study by Georgetown University said that America is looking at a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers to fill those rolls over the next 10 years.

“College graduates are more likely to find a rewarding job, earn higher income, and even, evidence shows, live healthier lives than if they didn’t have degrees. They also bring training and skills into America’s workforce, helping our economy grow and stay competitive. That benefits everyone. It’s just too bad that we’re not producing more of them.” – Bill Gates, Gatesnotes, 3 June 2015

Mr Yeoh said that the policy of upgrading vocational training to be be on par with academic degrees was a good one, but that does not equal to limiting or capping the latter.

“If anything, in the new knowledge economy with massive AI (artificial intelligence) crowding out of many traditional jobs and professions, one should err on the side of too much education and training rather than too little.” – Yeoh Lam Keong, FB

Mr Yeoh had previously criticised Singapore’s education policy as being unnecessarily stressful and competitive, not just at the tertiary level, but also at the primary and secondary levels.

(read also: Three questions for Education Minister and DPM by ex-GIC chief)

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