If we start by being perfectly honest (you and me both), most of us don’t exactly have the best opinion of private higher education around these parts.
Nothing encapsulates this better than the results of the Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI), conducted annually by the Institute of Service Excellence at SMU. For the past 3 years, the ranking indices for private education and Private Education Institutions (PEIs) have stayed around the mid-60s. Public education, in comparison, hit 75.7 in 2016.
To provide some context, Private Education currently ranks lower than one of our transport systems (which encountered some snags recently). This alone, perhaps, is more telling than anything else.
But why is Private education encountering this much disapproval, and is this disapproval truly founded? Digital Senior looks into and presents to you an analysis of the issues and concerns surrounding Private Higher Education, to find out if PEIs are really worth their salt.
1) Legitimacy & Credibility
Of all the concerns and issues Private Education that face, this is numero uno on the list. Private Education hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to reputation, largely due to reports in the media of many schools shutting down because of unethical practices, fraudulent degrees, and a host of other reasons. A few years ago, there were over 1000 PEIs in Singapore. Today, less than 300 are in operation.
While this doesn’t look very promising, the closures do show how PEIs are now held up to much stricter standards by the Committee for Private Education (CPE).
Formed to monitor PEIs and make sure that they adhere to compulsory regulatory frameworks, the CPE issues warnings to PEIs that have breached regulations or acted in ways against the interest of their students and the public. If they do not heed CPE’s warnings they will have their registrations canceled, with possible enforcement actions taken against them.
Beauty school Edes Academy is one case in point. Edes Academy had failed to inform CPE of changes in management and failed to maintain proper attendance records, amongst other actions. As a result, their registration was cancelled early February, and they were made to shut down.
Many PEIs are also doing their part: 38 PEIs, including Curtin University and SIM, for example, are members of the Singapore Association for Private Education (SAPE). SAPE, a non-profit inclusive industry association formed in 2010 to give PEIs a voice, seeks to promote excellence in Private Higher Education. Under SAPE, initiatives, strategies and projects are implemented in order to share knowledge and best practices. One such example is a yearly conference that PEIs attend alongside government representatives and other concerned parties, to discuss how to bring Private Education forward.
It’s often thought that going the private education route burns money, as compared to studying in one of the public universities. This most probably owes itself to the various subsidies and grants available to students of the latter, along with the wide variety of scholarships offered by corporations and schools to rightfully deserving students.
It might be surprising to most, but the equation of private education = very expensive is actually quite a misconception. Private education can actually be easier on one’s wallet! For a better idea of how this is so, Digital Senior presents to you a brief comparison of course fees amongst public and private schools for a Computer Science degree (single major)*.
*Do note that figures used for universities are for local students. Figures are accurate as of October 2017.
As seen from the table above, private higher education isn’t necessarily costlier than public education – this all depends on what course you choose to take.
While shorter course lengths and higher fees might give the impression that PEIs charge exorbitant fees yet cover lesser material, it is worth noting that public universities have much longer breaks within an academic year (usually adding up to 4 months’ worth). According to PSB Academy’s Dean, Sam Choon-Yin, PEIs can cover a 3-year degree within 2 years because of “innovative scheduling and time-tabling”, which includes “faster turnaround time in marking and moderating of coursework and final exams"
If you are eyeing an overseas education (by desire or circumstance) PEIs are also an alternative, as their degrees are awarded by the foreign universities they partner – with no distinctions in the degree’s standing whatsoever. This means that, while classes aren’t held in situ, the curriculums come from partner universities – and so do many of their lecturers. For illustration, here is a sample table of comparison for the fees you’ll pay to take two degrees offered here, versus taking it overseas at the partner university as an international student.
*all figures have been converted to SGD.
Fees are for either 2017 or 2018 intakes and are subject to change.
Financial assistance might be less accessible to those who do choose private education, but things have been slowly improving. PSB Academy, for example, offers their students scholarships and has made arrangements with banks for education loans.PSB also absorbs the interest of students who are members of The Credit Co-Operative (TCC), at 2.2% per annum (until further notice). Similarly, MDIS also awards scholarships and bursaries to those that require them. Check out our article on other financing options available here.
3) Quality of Education
Concerns are often raised when it comes to perceived quality of the education that a PEI offers.
The foremost concern revolves around the quality and credentials of their teaching staff. Unlike the Professors from public universities, PEI lecturers typically do not hold PhDs or publish academic research.
Are they, then, unqualified to teach at the tertiary level? The answer, according to Sam Choon-Yin and statistics, is a firm ‘no’. Sam, writer of “Private Education in Singapore: Contemporary Issues and Challenges”, raises the point of how paper qualifications and the ability to teach do not necessarily correlate. Additionally, lecturers from PEIs have more time to devote to prepare teaching materials at the same time[ii].
Furthermore, PEI lecturers are often individuals equipped with the real-world knowledge required to prepare students to be work-ready individuals – gained from years of experience in their respective fields. An example is Parkway College’s Nursing Diploma, taught by lecturers who have had years of practical nursing experience. The CPE also sets strict requirements that all teachers must meet minimum academic qualifications recognised by the authority in the country or territory they are established in.
Table retrieved from CPE
Ultimately, the quality of teaching standards can, perhaps, be best inferred from the feedback from existing and graduated students who have gone through the classes themselves. One way to obtain this is to speak to existing students at open houses and university fairs. Another way is to take a look at negative feedback: in 2016, for example, only 6% of complaints that the CPE received was about teachers and staff. At 47 complaints, it has dropped by 32%, versus 69 complaints received the year before.
Of course, improvements still can, and should, be made.
One interesting advantage that a Private Education has, which local universities might not be able to provide, is the chance to study under a learning style most suitable to your learning needs. As PEIs have a host of different partner schools coming from around the world, you can choose a degree from an Australian partner university that will provide a more project-based education, for example. You can also choose a US style of education, which entails more class participation. This means you have greater control over how you learn, which will help you maximise your time and make sure you take in as much as possible. Studying, after all, should be fulfilling and not just stressful.
It is a universal truth that PEI grads don’t do as well as grads hailing from SIT/NTU/NUS/SMU/SUTD/SUSS.
(If you follow the results of the Graduate Employment Surveys (GES), that is, where it was found that PEI grads earn a median starting salary of 2,550 per month in 2015/16. This is much lower in comparison to the 3,360 that SMU/NTU/NUS university graduates earn every month.)
Coming to such a conclusion, however, might be a little too hasty.
One key reason for this is because the GES for public university graduates also includes statistics from courses that PEIs do not offer, making such a comparison highly unfair. The public university GES includes courses such as medicine, whose graduates will inevitably draw a higher starting salary due to the nature of the profession.
Taking median figures as a gauge of future success and prospects, therefore, might not be entirely reliable.
Therefore, look also at the surveys* done by the PEIs before making your decision. PSB Academy, for example, also has annual graduate employment surveys.Conducted independently by market research consultancy firm ID stats, the surveys found that 85% of graduates found jobs 6 months after graduation. For MDIS, this figure was 80%, comparable to the 83% reflected for the Public University GES.
Many recruitment agencies have also expressed that many companies value experience over education. In this manner, students from PEIs have made a mark in the working world, valued for their agile mindsets and go-getter attitudes. You need only look at the stories and testimonials of graduates across the various PEIs to see this for yourself!
*All figures from 2014 surveys for objectivity
5) Amount of Student Support/Student Life
The public universities are known for having vibrant student life as well as lively campuses (CCAs, events such as NUS Student Union Rag and Flag, NTU’s 24 halls of residence).
Private universities, on the other hand? Much less.
This is due to the reality of having limited resources to work with (they do not have government funding assistance, which the local universities are entitled to, for example). Do note, however, that things are being worked on. Student support was an issue brought up during this year’s SAPE conference, for example; the Director-General for Private Education at SkillsFuture Singapore, Brandon Lee, exhorted PEIs to create opportunities and outcomes through supporting services that extend beyond the classroom. You can anticipate more efforts to be made in this area in the future, such as the building of stronger alumni networks.
In the meantime, many Private schools do have career development services and resources for their students the way public universities do – this includes yearly career fairs. Many PEIs also have facilities for you to pursue activities outside the classroom – SIM GE, for example, has a Performing Arts Theatre, tennis courts, a dance studio, and a gym on its Clementi Road Campus, just to name a few! Another to school to look at is PSB Academy; its high-tech city campus opened its doors in 2017.
Finally, PEIs also let you experience university life in a truly multicultural environment! A huge amount of students studying in PEIs hail from Southeast Asia and others parts of the world, with the ratio being approximately 1 international student to 2.6 local students (2015 figures). Form transnational friendships during uni life while experiencing a microcosm of working life – where you will learn how to adapt to different working styles and cultures in fast-paced environments and gain an edge over your peers.
So, is Private Education worth its salt?
We say that it’s a yes, but only if the right conditions have been met. Firstly, PEIs vary in quality and specialisations the same way all schools everywhere do, so it’s really important for you to do thorough research before you make a choice.
Secondly, and very realistically, it takes two hands to clap. Do remember that the degree of your success, too, depends upon your own effort and drive to excel.
More can be done to better Private Education, of course (in the areas of fees and administrative issues, for example, where the CPE receives more negative feedback in) and we hope to see improvements in upcoming years. There is also a strong stigma, reinforced by the media, which needs to be overcome.
In the meantime, PEIs are definitely making efforts towards providing students value-added education. The East Asia Institute of Management (EASB), for example, has entered a partnership with the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore (TMIS). The training arm of NATAS, EASB will, as a major shareholder, work with TMIS to make TMIS’s courses even more industry relevant through the introduction of “new blended learning pedagogy”, amongst other initiatives.
Digital Senior hopes that our analysis has helped clarified any concerns and queries you might have about Private Education. If you’re unsure about how to choose a PEI to study under, do check out our private university selection guide and other articles for advice – and leave us an email or comment should you have any queries!