End in sight for optometry degree course

SINGAPORE - Singapore's only full-time optometry degree programme is shutting down due to a lack of students and difficulty in recruiting staff.

The two-year course has failed to hit its target of 60 enrolments a year since it started in 2009.

The programme - which is jointly offered by Singapore Polytechnic and the University of Manchester - will come to an end after the current batch of 41 students graduates, a spokesman said yesterday.

This means those with a diploma in the subject who do not want to go abroad to continue their studies have only one other option, which is to do a part-time programme run by the Singapore Optometric Association with the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University.

Yesterday, the course spokesman said initial industry surveys carried out before it was set up "seemed more optimistic".

Dr Adrian Yeo, a director at Singapore Polytechnic, added: "The employment market is so good, so there is no push to do a degree programme."

He said the job requires only a diploma.

However, graduates with this diploma can earn $3,000 or more when they enter the job market, much more than those with other similar qualifications.

Optometrists are primary eye- care providers who can prescribe glasses and perform examinations to detect abnormalities.

They then refer these cases to an ophthalmologist, or specialist eye doctor.

Dr Yeo said recruiting staff had also been a challenge, given the "stringent requirements".

Faculty members need to have relevant PhD qualifications and accredited clinical experience.

The programme is part of the Ministry of Education's Polytechnic-Foreign Specialised Institution Initiative, which was launched to encourage polytechnic graduates to get a degree.

Industry practitioners have expressed disappointment at its impending closure, saying that it will now be harder to improve standards for the profession.

Singapore Optometric Association president Koh Liang Hwee said there are about 800 registered optometrists in Singapore, less than 25 per cent of whom have degrees.

He added that Singapore's restriction on the use of diagnostic drugs means there is not much they can do that diploma holders cannot.

For example, students on a degree programme learn how to use diagnostic eye drops to conduct eye tests, he said.

However, optometrists in Singapore are not allowed to use this tool. The Ministry of Health said in 2011 that it was reviewing this rule.

But Dr Koh still hopes more students will consider pursuing a degree, given the high rate of myopia and the ageing population.

"Optometrists with degrees can provide a good, accessible and cost-effective assessment, so that not everyone needs to go to an eye doctor," he said.


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