JC/Poly Cut Off Grades

March 19, 2007 at 12:47 am 2 comments

Poly or JC? Time to relook admission policy

By Sandra Davie, Education Correspondent
Mar 18, 2007
The Straits Times
FIVE years ago, a parent rang me in desperation, asking for advice on how to talk her son out of enrolling in a polytechnic.

His O-level scores were good enough to gain him entry into one of the top five junior colleges, but to her dismay, he wanted to study mass communications at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Her reason for worry: At that time, only one in 10 poly students made it to local universities, compared to seven in 10 JC students. To her relief, her son was eventually persuaded to take the JC route.

But things have since changed.

Last week, about a dozen parents rang me for the exact opposite advice: how to secure a polytechnic place for their teenagers.

Poly places are getting scarce, a reflection of their popularity among teenagers.

Polytechnics and junior colleges used to have an equal share of O-level school leavers – between 12,000 and 13,000 a year each – in the late 1990s.

Then more polytechnics were built, bringing the number to five, with the result that they now enrol more than 20,000 students. The 17 JCs take in about 15,000 students yearly.

The quantitative boom in numbers is accompanied by a qualitative rise in student calibre.

About a third of those entering polys this year are eligible for JCs, says the Education Ministry.

This has led to several parents complaining that their children with average O-level scores are being squeezed out of courses of their choice.

One key reason for the polys’ popularity is the wide number of courses they offer – from just a few dozen courses, mainly engineering and IT-related, previously, to more than 150 now.

They range from digital animation and Web design to film, sound and video – so-called new economy courses which cannot fail to captivate a teenager.

In contrast, the A-level curriculum, although revamped to stimulate creativity, still seems too conventional to the average O-level student. Also, some students are not confident that their command of the English language can see them through subjects such as General Paper.

That the polytechnics have become an established route to higher education and better-paying jobs is another reason for their burnished profile among students and parents.

The latest polytechnic employment survey of the class of 2006 showed that 91.3 per cent of them had found either full-time or part-time jobs within six months of graduating. They also earned $1,711 on average, a notch higher than the $1,659 drawn by the 2005 graduates.

More university places have been opened to polytechnic students too. Last year, more than 2,000 poly grads or around 10 per cent of their batch entered the three universities, double the number five years ago.

The authorities have promised that 15 per cent of the poly cohort will make it to the three local universities by 2010.

The number of poly students moving on to university will be boosted with the government’s plan to bring in up to 10 renowned foreign specialised institutions to partner the polytechnics in providing degree programmes in fields such as hospitality management, film studies, digital animation and sports management.

These institutions will offer thousands of poly grads more choices and opportunities to pursue quality degree studies locally at a lower cost.

For those who have no choice but to opt for a foreign university, the polytechnic route provides the faster track.

A typical junior college student spends two years studying for his A levels before entering the university for a three- or four-year course.

Polytechnic students spend three years on their diploma programme. But because many universities overseas offer advance placement which allows applicants to go directly to the second or even third year, they need to be abroad for just one or two years to land a degree.

And many return with first- class honours or at least second- upper degrees.

But how do they fare in the job market?

As yet, no large-scale studies have been done to compare the employment prospects of university graduates who took the two different routes.

But a survey by this newspaper in 2002 showed that employers have a preference for those who had taken the poly-university route.

Half of 214 publicly-listed companies surveyed said they had no preference. But of the other half, a significant 35 per cent said they preferred graduates who had taken the poly route. Only 10 per cent said they preferred to hire those who went to junior college.

Employers say the poly-university route is the best combination – the three years in the polytechnic would equip the youngsters with the basic technical and practical know-how, and the two or three more years at university would give them the theoretical and conceptual knowledge.

So it is clear that in a very short period of time, teenagers, parents and employers have changed their perceptions about the benefits of a poly education.

Given this, is it time to relook the way places in both sectors are allocated?

The entry bar for junior college is higher – students must have an aggregate of 20 points or below for their first language and relevant five subjects.

For polytechnics, the score cannot exceed 26. This is based on the English language, relevant two subjects and best two subjects.

But students aiming for the popular courses in the polytechnics are finding it easier to get a berth in a junior college than to land that preferred place in the polytechnic.

Shouldn’t the admission criteria for both sectors be based on students’ interests and aptitude, rather than O-level results?

This might go some way in solving the problem of talented students being squeezed out of the fields they can excel in.

There are other issues as well.

If indeed a polytechnic education prepares a young person well for university and the workforce, perhaps the Government should look into how even more young Singaporeans can be routed through the polytechnics.

Should the balance be tilted further in favour of polytechnics, with the number of places boosted to 25,000 yearly and JC intake pared down to 10,000?

What are the implications for the future should students, including bright students, shun the more academic JC route?

It might well be a good idea for the JCs to follow the poly example of self-marketing and promotion to teenagers and parents.

They might want to make Knowledge and Inquiry, Macro- economics and History of South-east Asia sexy again.


Plus this too.


Entry filed under: education, Singapore.

Pantheon of Titans The ever more Competitive Higher Education Landscape

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. michaelk  |  April 6, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for the ping!

  • 2. QIQI  |  November 3, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Nowaday, the chances of JC students entering Jc is stil higher than those in poly. Many people say that go poly also can go to UNI…True indeed! BUT I MEAN those express stream ones who score straight As or even 10 pts or below who can go JC but go poly, which can admt to local uni…For me a normal stream student who score an L1R4 of 15, got chance anot…I don;t think so…Every year I only heard 1 or 4 poly graduates entering NUS or NTU…i believe these are the ones who score an excellent O’ level results…Local universities sure take the best of the best!!!


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