School’s Out: How Singapore Keeps University Reserved for the Elites

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Comparatively speaking…

Moreover, when you look at how university graduates (S$3,300) earn almost twice as much as ITE graduates (S$1,700) – which means that university graduates would likely earn more than 100 percent higher those with upper secondary education, and when you compare this with the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), where “[adults] with a bachelor’s or equivalent degree earn [an average] 48% more” than those with upper secondary education – this means that the wage gap in Singapore between those with a university degree and those without is higher than most countries in the OECD. For the example that Cheng quoted, those with a bachelor’s in Germany earn only 52 percent more than those with upper secondary education. In South Korea and New Zealand, this is only 45 percent. In Denmark and Norway, a bachelor’s gives earnings of only 14 and 13 percent higher than an upper secondary education, respectively. And in Austria, the wage gap is only 5 percent. Singapore’s wage gap between those with a bachelor’s and an upper secondary school education, which at a likely more than 100 percent, puts it in the range of Brazil (105 percent) and Mexico (126 percent), which also rank as the 16th and 25th most unequal countries in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Singapore ranks alongside them, at 32nd most unequal.

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Thus depriving Singaporeans of a university education is not as simple as denying them higher education. It also means depriving them of their economic livelihoods down the road. On top of that, where workers in Singapore with university education would see their wages increase over time, for those without a degree, the wages of “lower-skilled workers […] generally […] peaked earlier. In fact, wages of plant & machine operators and cleaners, laborers & related workers were largely flat for younger workers before declining for those in their mid-forties onwards.”

As such, where the government restricts the access of Singaporeans to public universities, this also cuts the latter off the opportunity to earn higher wages. Thus when even government ministers mock Singaporeans for wanting to take degrees, this cannot be more disparaging.

In 2013, in a dialogue with students, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure & Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan had said: “You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.”

But Khaw’s comments are a slap in the face for Singaporeans who are not able to obtain a degree, precisely because not having one “cannot give [them] a good life” when the majority of them would receive starting salaries below the estimated poverty line.

Minister without portfolio Chan also recently spoke at the Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) graduation ceremony and suggested to the students not to look for a perfect job. He used the idea of a relationship to illustrate his point: “Is it (more important) to marry the woman you love, or to love the woman you marry?”

Chan said that the students should “do justice” to their jobs instead.

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