Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Question University Priorities

When a university goes out of its way to wax lyrical about how two-thirds of its graduates have secured jobs before graduation, some tough questions need to be asked about its motivations for doing so.

Insecurity could be one motivation. This was implied in remarks made by its top academic when he touched on the communication or social skills of this university’s graduates as compared to another.

Alternatively perhaps, its actions are motivated to offer cold comfort to those critics disillusioned about the university's ability to attract employers for its students.

Then again, shouldn't such ability to attract employers be inherent and natural for any university of some reputation?

In light of the ‘Singaporeans first’ policy espoused recently by the architect of Singapore’s current tertiary education system, the other question that should be asked is how these statistics compare as between graduates who are Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.

The university has also disclosed that some of its graduates are earning five-figure wages. When figures like these are dished out, what kind of signal is it sending about the values it represents as an institution of higher learning? Is the amount of money a job pays the best way to judge the worth of a job?

Needless to say, employers fire even faster than they hire. As I write this, I know of several employers that presently have hiring freezes in place. The graduates earning five-figure incomes may find themselves at the gates of these employers if they can’t match up to the level expected of them or if the market turns against them. One wonders what the university will do then.

The university should share more about the one-third of its graduates that have not secured gainful employment.

How many of them are Singaporean ethnic minorities? How many of them are foreigners who will not be able to complete their compulsory bonds to work in Singapore?

Some ten years ago, at the time when I graduated, similar bullish sentiments were expressed about its then graduating cohort. I am informed that the reality faced by some of its graduates was a different one.

They did not earn the meteoric salaries purported to have existed. Permanent positions were hard to come by so they settled for temporary or term positions.

A few were extreme cases. For example, despite sending out tens of applications, one of its graduates failed to secure a single job. His first job only came over a year after graduation and that too on a contract basis.

At that time, anecdotal accounts also suggested that Malay graduates had a harder time securing positions.

In recent years, I am told this appears to be changing. As more foreign banks open in Singapore, they are moving away from traditional sources of recruitment. The foreign banks have made no secret of the fact that they want to grow bigger than local banks. Their efforts to challenge the status quo are ruffling feathers aplenty.

There is a greater desire on the part of these financial institutions to tap the Malay hinterland of Singapore and the flow of funds within ASEAN, including those from the Arab world. As such, their recruiters have been scouring the universities for Malay graduates.

Any university of some reputation does not need to brandish employment figures to show how well its students are doing. That is a given. It should focus on helping those graduates that need a leg up in securing suitable employment.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?
Feel free to react below or leave a comment.

1 comment:

Grisabella said...

Oh dear! Spelling is definitely a valuable skill. NTU and local universities should look into making their students go through a compulsory spelling (and grammar and pronunciation) module! I was told by a student of mine that her tutor (a university student - could be NUS/NTU/SMU) insisted that the word "itinerary" should be pronounced as "itinery"! Gasp. I had such a hard time trying to convince her that it was "i-ti-ne-ra-ry".