In the media and policy discourses in Singapore, comparisons have often been made with countries like Taiwan and South Korea to validate the Singapore government’s long time policy approach of maintaining the cohort participation rate (cpr) in public universities at around 25% to 30%. Considering the rates of youth unemployment in Taiwan (12.7%) and South Korea (9.5%), where the cpr in universities has hovered around 80% to 90%, it would appear that the problem is one of an over-supply of graduates. While Singapore has maintained a commitment to skills training and to fostering a well-resourced polytechnic sector and the technical and vocational education sector, the government announced in 2012 its plans to raise the country’s cpr in universities to 40% by the year 2020. It established new public-autonomous universities to fulfill this goal, and expanded study places in existing universities, nevertheless with the proviso that internships would central to the curriculum, and that the degrees on offer would be well-tuned to the job shortages in the economy.
What policy and political factors explain this change in Singapore’s long-held approach to the cpr for universities, especially when compared to the cases of Taiwan and South Korea? This paper offers an explanation of the policy and politics that underpinned the issue of the number of university places in Singapore, and also an explanation of the Singapore government’s shift in policy in 2012—albeit a policy move that took place within the context and language of the government’s new SkillsFuture programme, in which the education institutions are expected to continue to be well plugged into the needs of industries.
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