First work, then varsity, says poly grad

SINGAPORE - After he left Singapore Polytechnic (SP) with a perfect score, many would have expected Mr Tan Junhong to head straight for the university.

But the aeronautical engineering graduate, who topped his course, wants to first work at aircraft- engine makers such as Rolls-Royce for five years before deciding on university plans.

"I know my decision is unusual, but then again my education journey has been unusual," said Mr Tan, who at 24 is four years older than his peers.

He did not do well in his A-level exams at Pioneer Junior College and failed to qualify for university.

After his national service, he decided to follow his childhood interest in aeroplanes, and went to SP.

"There are some jobs where experience counts more than qualifications," said Mr Tan, the son of a technician and a housewife.

His decision to start work first is rare among the top polytechnic performers. They usually choose to further their studies after graduation.

Fellow SP graduate Eugene Lim, armed with a maritime business diploma, has already secured a place to read maritime studies at Nanyang Technological University.

"I'm very sure I want to work in the maritime industry, so I want to deepen my knowledge in this field," said the 20-year-old.

"There are also better career prospects with a degree."

Over the last five years, 65 to 70 per cent of SP students have gone on to pursue degrees at universities here or abroad.

In response to queries, an Education Ministry spokesman said that the five local universities received around 27,000 applications from polytechnic graduates and about 38,000 applications from A-level holders this year.

The value of a university degree has been hotly debated recently, after National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said earlier this month that Singaporeans do not need to be university graduates to be successful.

His comments came a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that polytechnic graduates need not just aim for degrees after leaving school, as they have many good options.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing echoed these sentiments yesterday at SP's graduation ceremony, where he was guest of honour.

He told the 340 graduands that there were sufficient job opportunities for them here, compared to Europe, where youth are facing high unemployment rates. He also challenged them to continue learning after leaving school.

"It's not the degree or the diploma... that is most important," he said. "What matters most is the training of the mind and the ability to grasp an issue, ask the correct questions, dissect the problem and find the solutions."

At the ceremony, SP principal Tan Choon Shian said: "While conventional wisdom suggests pursuing a degree right away, it is also wise to work for a few years, and gain more life experiences to be clearer about what you want before deciding."

Yesterday's ceremony marked the start of the polytechnic graduation season. More than 25,000 students from the five polytechnics will graduate over the next few weeks. This includes 5,898 graduates from SP.

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