A little ramble and rant about ASPIRE

We would rather hire a poly grad, but would we rather be one?

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE – yet another wonderful acronym) committee has raised some great points about how lacking our education system is in terms of progression options for ITE and poly graduates.

Any uncle in the coffeeshop could have told you that this was a problem 15 or 20 years ago, just before the great world of private degrees opened up and let everyone try their hand at graduate heaven… for a price. There’s demand and supply for you.

SMS Indranee Rajah, Chair of said committee (ASPIRE, not the coffeeshop), warned that oversupply of degree holders could put degree-holder jobs at risk. Apart from the obvious-ness of that statement, many have begun to take issue with this apparent attempt at making degrees exclusive or, if unkindly extrapolated, this perceived attempt at widening the gap between the elites and the muck-dwellers.

This sense of offense in itself is a symptom of how inflated the value of a degree is in our society. Even non-degree holders and opponents of elitism think that degree holders are better than poly/ITE grads – that’s why they are so offended by the implications of that statement.

It was not clear whether SMS Rajah thought degree holder jobs would be different from non-degree holder jobs, or whether non-graduates could ever command the respect and salary of graduates. That is really why most people study – money and recognition. How many people take a degree for knowledge and passion for the subject matter these days? Liberal Arts degree anyone? Anyone?

I’ve seen and had the pleasure of hiring poly graduates who are more capable, more hardworking and more street-savvy than some local uni graduates. These people are worth more to me in my business, and I will pay them more, paper qualifications be damned. Maybe that’s because I’m an entrepreneur and business owner, but can you convince the HR manager of a larger company to think the same? Why would he hire someone with a lower qualification when he can “play it safe” and grab someone with a degree?

Even the civil service treats poly grads like garbage… until they get a degree. Then miraculously you become a better person with a different career path, oh enlightened degree-holder. I heard a rumbling from a key figure in a government ministry (who will remain anonymous) that a shift in the distinction between diploma and degree holders in roles such as the military (they now experience two separate and unequal career paths, regardless of performance or military aptitude) will be eradicated in favour of a more performance-based one.

However, there is still that old elitist system of the invincible scholar class that we have to contend with, and with so many scholars in government, who dares to talk about the sacred cow, let alone kill it?

The ASPIRE committee had better have sweeping powers behind all that talk. Changing the mindsets of generations of parents, teachers, employers and even the G itself is all but impossible.


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