Will Aspire plan inspire change?

Will Aspire plan inspire change?
ITE graduates celebrating at a commencement ceremony. The introduction of the place-and-train programme comes at a time when figures on university applications show that, if anything, the degree chase has intensified.

It is a bold idea: Let those who have completed their basic studies at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnics go out to work and further their qualifications at the same time.

The place-and-train programme is a key part of recommendations released on Monday by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee to boost career prospects of ITE and polytechnic graduates.

But will studying while working, instead of going on to chase the holy grail of a degree, fly with these graduates?

The first 11 place-and-train schemes start in 2016. Under the programme - modelled after Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes - participants undergo structured on-the-job training while studying to further their qualifications.

Those from the ITE can work towards diplomas, while those from polytechnics can aim for advanced and specialist diplomas.

The scheme will be supported by a framework of skills drawn up for every sector with clear progression paths these workers can take.

Yet, it comes at a time when figures on university applications, those heading for overseas study and enrolment in private schools here show that, if anything, the degree chase has intensified. Ministry of Education (MOE) figures show that this year, the five autonomous universities, excluding SIM University, received about 37,500 applications from A-level holders and about 29,000 applications from polytechnic graduates this year.

Each student, on average, applied to two different universities.

According to MOE, compared with three years ago, there were about 4,000 more university applications this year from polytechnic graduates. This is largely due to the increase in the number of students applying for the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) degree programmes, which cater to polytechnic graduates.

In the end, about 14,000 A- level and polytechnic students landed a place in the six local universities. MOE did not give the breakdown between the two groups. But previous figures released show that about 70 per cent of those from junior colleges managed to secure a place, compared with 20 per cent of the polytechnic cohort, who number about 25,000 every year.

But the remaining polytechnic diploma holders are unlikely to give up on their degree ambitions.

Several thousand will head overseas, mostly to British and Australian universities which offer generous credit exemptions, allowing them to complete their degrees in one to two years.

Those who cannot afford the cost will look to private institutions in Singapore. Last published figures show that there are more than 100,000 Singaporeans enrolled in private schools.

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