SINGAPORE - A new "through-train" programme starting next year will allow polytechnic students to not just get a place in a local university, but also be assured of a job.
Students on this route will also graduate from university up to a year earlier than their peers.
For a start, Temasek Polytechnic (TP) has tied up with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) to offer this new pathway in April next year for 40 students in the building services and mechatronics sectors.
This was announced by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (July 12) at a work-learn carnival at Nanyang Polytechnic.
The higher learning institutions have in recent years played a bigger role in offering a host of work-study programmes at the diploma and degree levels, in a trend that is seeing more convergence between work and study.
But this new pathway, which will be expanded to more courses, is the first such programme in Singapore that gives full-time diploma students a guaranteed route to a degree.
Students in TP's mechatronics diploma will go on to study SIT's bachelor of engineering in mechanical design and manufacturing engineering, while those in TP's integrated facility management or green building and sustainability course may move on to SUSS' bachelor of science in facilities management.
These students will take three or more university modules in their third year of polytechnic, go on an internship with their sponsoring companies, and graduate with a diploma.
During their undergraduate years, they will study and work concurrently for the company, and after graduation will return as full-time employees.
The entire programme will take about five years.
Said Mr Ong: "Essentially, students entering this pathway will be embarking on a Work Study Degree Programme, but starting during their diploma programme.
"Students will have a seamless integrated pathway that allows for a longer and more effective workplace learning stint with the same employer. They will start off as interns during their full-time diploma programme, and progress to become full-time employees during the degree phase.
"Companies will also benefit through a longer engagement with the trainees and can better plan for their deployment and career progression," he added.
In a speech addressing 1,500 polytechnic students and employers, he said that existing work-study programmes will be expanded.
The Nanyang Technological University will offer six new work-study degrees in areas such as engineering, data science and business analytics in the new academic year that begins next month.
Currently, local universities offer 16 work-study degree programmes.
The polytechnics will roll out another 15 new Earn and Learn programmes (ELP) in sectors such as infocomm technology and advanced manufacturing, while the Institute of Technical Education is adding more work-learn technical diploma programmes, which are also a form of ELPs, to its current slate of 14.
In total, there are currently 123 ELPs.
In the post-graduate space, the SIT will start its first industrial doctorate programme and an industrial master programme in engineering, information and communications technology, and health sciences this academic year.
Mr Gary Lim, deputy director of TP's SkillsFuture Academy, said it has worked with SUSS and SIT to "streamline" the modules for the new work-study pathway that students take so that they do not have to repeat similar modules across polytechnic and university.
"Many polytechnic students today have the aspiration to obtain a degree. At the same time, we cannot neglect the fact that Singapore is facing a manpower shortage in some areas," he said.
The new pathway will allow diploma-holders to meet their goal of getting a degree while ensuring that companies have a pipeline of talent - all in a shorter period of time, he added.
Students on this route will graduate from university nine months to a year earlier than most of their peers.
They will be selected yearly for the programme based on their aptitude and interest in the job industry. They will be chosen after going through interviews with the universities and employers, and need to maintain an academic grade point average to continue in the programme.
More than five companies and 15 students have expressed interest so far.
Ms Amanda Sim, human resource manager of Rhodo Property & Estate Management, said the company is always on the lookout for talent and wants to learn more about the scheme after its launch.
"We are indeed glad to hear of this new integrated pathway that will help us in identifying talents at an earlier stage," she said.
Temasek Polytechnic second-year mechatronics student Cecilia Soh, 18, wants to apply for the programme as it will give her a head-start to university and her career.
"Most university courses will take three to four years, but if I go on this route, it will take 2½ years to finish university," she said.
"We spend a lot of time studying all our lives, and I feel like some things can be learnt in a shorter time and I prefer learning on the job.
"But I also really want to obtain a degree as that will help to improve my resume, and I guess that's the Singaporean way of thinking."
Her coursemate Kenneth Lim, 18, is also keen to take the same route because of the job security it offers.
"It's also more difficult to get into university from polytechnic, so having that added security is good."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.