Fixation on academic qualifications will be hard to break

10 June, 2019

Photo: ‘Study buddies’ from SRN’s SG Photobank

In the international playing field, Singapore has long been famous, or some would say infamous, for being a country with individuals highly focused on obtaining higher academic qualifications. This culture has been attributed to the government’s influence, in a bid to raise the country’s standard of education since the Singapore’s independence. In a monthly Straits Times series by the NUS Department of Economics, Dr Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng addresses the perennial issue of ability versus qualifications.

Dr Seah mentions that academia has identified two possible reasons for education corresponding to an increase in earnings. The first is that more time spent in school could make individuals more productive while the second is that employers might correlate more schooling with greater job capability. Although this correlation may not be entirely justified, Dr Seah explains that a primary reason for employers using this heuristic is the difficulty of assessing a potential employee’s level of capability at first glance during an interview. Since many skills essential in a job are unobservable within a short interview, academic qualifications provide the most direct method of assessing individual ability. He also cites research that indicates wages increase for every additional year of schooling in diploma studies.

Dr Seah concludes that because of this, Singaporeans emphasise education a lot and thus, the government in recent years has begun attempting to reverse this culture, stressing the mastery of skills over obtaining paper qualifications. However, because the motive for acquiring credentials is unlikely to shift anytime soon, and new innovations to assess individual ability are costly, such a culture shift may be hard to achieve.

Read the full article here: