What makes non-graduates valuable?

I’m really trying NOT to take the mickey out of PM’s NDR, but his section on ITE and Poly grads being successful really threw me off.

First, of course were the promises that the public sector will “place more emphasis on skills and ability” according to the ST report on Page 2. Some talk about merging some non-graduate and graduate tracks and changing the way people get promoted. Sounds like a plan (and perhaps merely a plan), as I have often complained on the hypocrisy of “meritocracy” in the civil service, particularly the different officer schemes in the SAF, and in disciplines where no specialised “degree level” qualification is needed.

A friend of mine, Jin Yao, has already pointed out on his blog how this whole “sell” just comes off as a bunch of hogwash. At this point in our meritocratic decline, I’ll only believe it when I see it. Until then, I take it as simply a political promise. I’m skeptical in this area.

Then he mentioned two things: “hard work” and “upgrading”… and that got me confused. Yes, hard work and continuous self-improvement are critical (and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt by interpreting it as “self-improvement” rather than “upgrade to a degree”), but the real root of excellence for people in Poly and ITE is 1) respect for their craft and 2) passion for their craft. That then results in people spending hours honing their skills and, to quote an aspiring Pokémon Master, “be the very best. Like no one ever was.”

The new role model for ITE and Poly.

Of course, there’s also the typical lack of any sort of admission of poor governance. PM happily skips to “the solution” without addressing the causes of the problem – his own Government’s long-held policies and values.

How come all three of PM’s examples of non-graduates being given opportunities are from Keppel? Okay, they come from two different Keppel subsidiaries, but this really points to the fact that Keppel is doing well in this area or that the shipbuilding industry really values ability rather than paper qualifications. Seems like you have to join Keppel and do shipbuilding if you want to get anywhere without a degree.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) recently shared with a small group of influencers that he too was not comfortable with ITEs and Polys constantly boasting about what proportion of their students eventually went on to Poly/Uni, as evidenced by the many posters and advertising campaigns boasting “X% of our students made it to Poly” or “Y out of Z made it to the local university”.

This nonsense has to stop, and the public service is clearly a large part of the problem. Promises are easy to make, but if the public service hasn’t already solved this travesty by now, I don’t fancy their odds in the next couple of years.



  1. It’s all hot air. Probably another vote-chasing exercise similar to the Pioneer Package propaganda.

    Try applying for a job in the civil service. It’s a caste system of academic qualifications: scholars at the top of the food chain, then first class honours, then second upper honours, then the lower honours, then the degree with no honours, then the polytechnic diplomas, ‘A’/’O’ levels. The payscale and prospects are vastly different.

    They even want to know your PSLE score.

    Your CV is instantly binned if you do not fulfill certain academic achievements.

    Also, the PAP has nothing but scorn and contempt for non-grads. Refer to the Punggol East by-election. How dare the electorate vote for a polytechnic diploma holder from a modest background over a doctor with cars! The audacity!

    Hey PAP, stop trying to buy votes, making empty claims that ears are itching to hear. You will lose more seats in the next GE.


    1. Yeah. They are saying one thing but doing another thing. They have their motives. We shouldn’t believe PAP’s crap…


  2. hi Douglas

    few thing which came through my mind after reading through your post

    1) if a degree is so substitutable with other qualifications, then why have them in the first place? what’s the value of unis (the harvards, Cambridge, mit, nus. smu etc…) in our society. whats the value of the profession known as professor?

    2) much has been said about the “skills vs paper ” thing. but when the civil service decides to hire a graduate for a particular position. are they simply looking at the paper (as many had implied) or are they also looking at the skills of candidate. lets say mas, mti, or mof hire an grad for an economist position (or MFA hires an foreign policy analyst), is it only about the paper qualifications of the candidate, or his/her skills.

    3) I do agree with you that the “grad officer scheme” in the SAF seems illogical. bt when I do further research on military systems around the world in order to find out why such illogical things exist, somehow I do become convinced on this matter.

    last but not least I really enjoy reading your post. keep up the good work!



    1. Hi, thanks for writing! My name’s Daniel.

      1) It is up to the degree holder to prove that the degree is valuable. If you can’t actually perform any better then it’s worthless. Also, when every mother’s son has a degree, then, economically speaking, degrees do be come less valuable. They are no longer a reflection of ability.

      2) They have a rigid system they use. It works for some positions, but fails miserably as well.

      3) Illogical things exist everywhere. That’s why we have to point them out and change them.


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