Category Archives: Education

Skills, Varsity Rankings, Degrees and Wastepaper!

The 2019 list of global university rankings from Times Higher Education is out and the National University of Singapore has slid only a notch – from 22 last year to 23 now. Tsinghua University has moved to the 22nd place (eight slots higher from last year’s list) which makes it Asia’s number 1 university.

This is where the NUS has lost lustre as it can no longer pride itself as the region’s leader in education. Singapore will still be pleased as it has only lost the mantle to a university in China, given its affinity for the red giant.

The slide may become an annual fixture as the Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung (who has a degree from the London School of Economics and an MBA from another institution in Europe) had recently advised Singaporeans not to be fixated about degrees. He even thought a future Prime Minister without a degree was a distinct possibility.

That is Singapore’s style of dealing with any demand for more places in Singapore universities for locals.

Interestingly, Tsinghua has a student population of more than 47,000, with only less than 8% of them being from overseas (3,472). In other words, it caters to a largely local population as 92% of its students are from China.

Foreigners Outnumber Locals: In contrast, NUS has a strength of around 38, 000 students with more than 28% of the slots being consumed by foreigners. My understanding is that if we break it down into STEM and non-STEM UG courses, foreign students will account for an overwhelming majority of them.

I don’t understand what the minister has been implying by saying skills are more important than degrees. Shouldn’t he and the Government be initiating steps to ensure more Singaporeans get into varsity courses with focus on skills that are in demand in a smart Nation?

When a degree in a non-STEM discipline is weighed against one in STEM, it requires no rocket science expertise to see the former will have less market value, affecting their job prospects.

So, why are more Singaporeans pursuing degrees with a diminishing value? What is the Government doing about it? Bringing in more foreign workers to meet their goal of a seven-million population?

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Employment in Singapore, foreign talent, General

Mathematics, Pride of Singapore

After making its way into the American education system, Singapore’s style of teaching Mathematics has now captured the attention of the United Kingdom.

Singaporeans can justifiably be proud of its global stature in Mathematics.

Both my daughters are products of the Singapore education system and I can say, with a sense of pride, that they had aced Mathematics – something I could not! 

G Joslin Vethakumar



Singapore maths inspires UK educators


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NUS, NTU Top Rankings but are they Failing Locals?

It is a matter of pride for me that the top two universities in Singapore hold the same two slots among educational institutions across all of Asia. That is a ranking they have been holding the last few years, pushing behind even universities in Japan and China.

Significantly, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have just been placed 12th and 13th worldwide respectively in the QS ranking 2016 – both ahead of such institutions as Yale, Cornell, John Hopkins and King’s College, London.

The Australian National University is placed 22nd and China’s Tsinghua University 24th.

That is a phenomenal accomplishment for tiny Singapore. Congratulations!

I am doubly proud of this as my second daughter is currently in Year 4 of her honours degree at the NUS. My first daughter studied in Australia but completed two semesters at the NTU through an exchange programme.

I have thus reason to take delight in the successes of the two top universities here.


Shortage of IT Graduates

But they, and the other institutions in Singapore, appear to have failed to address the shortage of information technology (IT) graduates in the country.

A lot of the seats in prime courses in the universities here are taken by students from overseas as policy-makers do not seem inclined to give priority to locals, in their undying quest for “foreign talent”. I had touched on the scenario of building a knowledge economy with non-Singaporeans in a post two years ago.

Just last year they even faced criticism that they were dispensing obsolete IT knowledge, as I had blogged about here.

Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Outsourcing

But I view the reports of IT personnel shortage with scepticism as I find them overblown. We live in an era when there are real apprehensions of Artificial Intelligence and robotic manpower shaking up the job landscape. Add to that the impact created by outsourcing, the day may not be far when we will see superfluous qualified personnel scrambling for jobs.

Those companies that cry of manpower shortage today are fossilised entities stuck in an old-world economy, failing to tap virtual resources and helping decongest overpopulated Singapore.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Employment in Singapore

Engineering Talent – Introspection Needed on how Singapore has Failed Locals


Today’s newspapers quoted Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as saying that while engineering was key to the country’s future “it has become harder to woo Singaporeans into the profession.”

He goes on to say that “Singapore is also not at the cutting edge” in most engineering fields.

Govt Must Take Blame: As he is a forward-looking, intelligent leader, I guess it has also occurred to him that the government must take the blame for its failure to build this critical talent pool within the country.

When most Singaporeans are kept out of the local universities, with a significant portion of engineering courses being taken up by foreigners, how can we expect the situation to be any better?

I may have my statistics wrong but I wish the local media take a crack on investigative reporting to get to the bottom of it.

Mr Lee has also talked about how Silicon Valley is scoring over Singapore. Of course, it does with all the foreign students Singapore accommodates, at the expense of locals, only eyeing Silicon Valley. Those staying back are not the type of talent Singapore needs – Silicon Valley discards!

China and India: Mr Lee also goes on to say: “Even in Asia, countries like China and India not only have larger pools of talent, but deeper capabilities and they have created IT firms that are world leaders.”

The reasons are simple: They are a thousand times bigger than Singapore and they don’t fill their universities with foreigners.

I have written several posts in the past, so I don’t wish to harp on how Singapore has failed locals in terms of education. Here are some of them that can be checked out:

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Singapore Education, Singapore ICT Manpower, Singapore job scene

Xu Jinping to Angela Merkel, Leaders have Impressive Academic Credentials

India’s Dr Manmohan Singh was considered the world’s most accomplished leader

From having the world’s most educated leader (Dr Manmohan Singh) to one with questionable qualifications (Mr Narendra Modi), it has been quite a fall for India.

8.-Xi-Jinping-ÔÇô-ChinaChinese President Xu Jinping does not flaunt the law doctorate he holds from the elite Tsinghua University. He also holds a chemical engineering degree from the same university.

U.S. President Barack Obama graduated in Law from the prestigious Harvard University. He also taught Law at the Chicago Law School for 12 years before becoming President.

4.-Angela-Merkel-ÔÇô-GermanyA scientist: German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a doctorate in the sciences, having read Physics at Leipzig University. She received her Ph.D. with a thesis on quantum chemistry.

Dr. Merkel also carried out research in physical chemistry at Berlin’s Academy of Sciences before entering politics.

Dr Manmohan_SinghA Doctorate from Oxford: With his impeccable qualifications, the former Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was the pride of the nation.

Not many world leaders could match his erudition and professional stature – a doctorate in Economics from Oxford University, preceded by an honours degree from Cambridge University.

He had worked with the U.N. for several years and had also served as Secretary General of the South Commission, an independent economic policy think-tank headquartered in Geneva from 1987 to November 1990.

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron holds a first-class honours degree from Oxford.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is a law graduate from Leningrad State University.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani holds a doctorate in Law from a university in Scotland.

In fact, most of the world’s top leaders have proven academic accomplishments.

That is possibly why Indian Prime Minister Modi is reluctant to come clean on the degrees he owns or does not own, landing him in polemics.

Forget education, personal integrity and ethical values are just as important for any leader running a country. As in business, so in politics!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Afzal Guru was no Saint, Raking him up was an Immature Act

Were Protesting JNU Students on a Cerebral Holiday?

In an increasingly borderless world, internationalism will replace nationalism over time as a logical shift. But that idealism is still a long shot, possibly not even on the distant horizon.

Until the world sees that evolution, you will need to live within the parameters of the land you inhabit without indulging in actions that can disturb peace and sow the seeds of ferment. Particularly when terrorism is already a menace the world is grappling with.

Still, if one ventures down that path he risks being treated with an iron fist and not kid gloves.

Convicted, Hanged Terrorist: This is exactly what is happening to some Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students in Delhi who are reported to have raised slogans in support of a convicted and hanged terrorist.

Afzal Guru was no saint, but a terrorist who colluded with Pakistan to harm India. By condemning India for hanging Afzal, the students were neither demonstrating dissent nor triggering an intellectual debate on issues of national import.

Instead, they were providing room for the country’s enemies to quietly savour India’s discomfiture over an issue that has been long dead.

Antinational: If they thought they will be hailed as heroes embarrassing India, it is their folly. The Government is right in viewing the JNU development as antinational activity and not as innocent, harmless actions by a bunch of misguided elements.

Were they on a cerebral holiday, indulging in actions verging on the ridiculous? They invited trouble and are paying the price for their indiscretion.

Sedition may appear to be too harsh a charge but I will not go overboard slamming India for that. The Government has cleverly given the protests a new dimension by claiming that the JNU students had the backing of terrorists in Pakistan, with some tweets thrown in as evidence.

The silly students deserve no sympathy. They must be happy that they did not meet the same fate as those involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

G Joslin Vethakumar


Filed under Education, Education and politics in India, General, Pakistan Terrorism, Terrorism

Australia, an Education Superpower

Singapore has top-notch universities that rank among the best in the world along with those from the U.S. and Europe.

But it is Australia which has emerged as the largest international education provider, according to a report in the Financial Times, reproduced by the Today newspaper in Singapore today.

Last year around 650,000 students enrolled in Australian universities, making it a near $20-billion industry.

By 2025 the figure is expected to double.

My elder daughter studied there and returned to Singapore immediately after her graduation. Australia typically allows international students to work for up to four years after graduation.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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