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Publication Detail
Skills for the Future: Analyses of Singapore’s Graduate Labour Market and its Upper Secondary Education and Training System in Comparative Perspective
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Green A, Green F, Kaye N, Phan H, Heneke G
  • Publisher:
    Centre for Learning and Life Chances
  • publication date:
  • Place of publication:
    UCL Institute of Eduycation
  • Pagination:
    i, 49
  • Commisioning body:
    Institute for Adult Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences
  • Keywords:
    Skills, Literacy, Numeracy
  • Addresses:
    Francis Green
    UCL Institute of Education

    Andy Green
    UCL Institute of Education

    Golo Henseke
    UCL Institute of Education

    Neil Kaye
    UCL Institute of Education

    Hao Phan
    UCL Institute of Education
    UCL Institute of Education
    LLALES Centre
i Executive Summary Singapore has been of long-standing interest worldwide for those interested in skills issues. This small city state has broadly succeeded over decades in maintaining a balance between the skills demanded in the economy at successive stages in its development and the skills being supplied through schools, polytechnics and workplace training, supplemented by a substantial segmented migrant workforce. Singapore also stands out for the successes of its school system, with the pupils in its schools being ranked among the highest globally in the PISA tests. This report examines two important aspects of the supply and utilisation of skills in Singapore in recent years: the graduate labour market and the system of upper secondary education and training. First, using two surveys conducted in 2013 and 2017 and other official data it finds that:  Between 2013 and 2017, the share of graduates rose from 32 percent to 38 percent, but this rise was more than matched by a rise in the share of jobs that are graduate jobs – those that require a university degree upon entry – from 29 percent to 38 percent. These joint expansions maintained a broad dynamic balance between the total supply and demand.  The report distinguishes between graduate jobs which are ‘warranted’ by the tasks involved, and those ‘unwarranted’ graduate jobs where a degree is required but the generic tasks involved do not appear to require a university degree.  Most of the increase in graduate jobs between 2013 and 2017 was ‘warranted’ by changes in the task-content of graduate jobs that entailed a greater requirement to perform typical generic graduate tasks.  The hourly pay premium for university graduates, relative to those with at most secondary qualifications, is just over 200 percent, and remained stable at this high level between 2013 and 2017.  As in many other countries, ‘underemployed’ graduates -- those who do not work in a graduate job -- earn less than those who work in graduate jobs. This underemployment wage penalty in Singapore was 31 percent in both 2013 and 2017.  Graduates working in ‘task-warranted’ graduate jobs earned 18 percent greater hourly pay than graduates working in ‘task-unwarranted’ jobs.  Among Singapore graduates, women and those whose parents are not university educated are more likely to be underemployed. However, the place where graduates were born (whether inside or outside Singapore) makes no difference to their probability of being underemployed.  Consistent, precise comparisons with other developed countries are difficult because the relevant data elsewhere cover all workers rather than, as in Singapore, just the resident workforce. Approximate comparisons suggest, however, that neither higher education attainment, nor the proportion of graduate jobs, nor the graduate underemployment wage penalty is exceptional in Singapore. ii Second, using data from the PISA tests and the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (SAS), the report compares the progression of core skills between age 15 and early adulthood, through the stage of upper-secondary education and training. It examines Singapore and 32 other OECD countries/regions, comparing the outcomes for average skill levels and their inequalities in relation to the type of education system. It finds that:  Singapore performs highly in mean scores for Reading/literacy and Maths/numeracy both at age 15 (PISA) and at ages 18-20 (SAS).  At age 18-20 in SAS, among the countries with values in our sample, Singapore ranked first in numeracy and sixth in literacy.  According to our analysis of relative changes in skills between age 15 and age 18-20, Singapore maintains its high position relative to other countries in both literacy and numeracy skills, although it does not significantly improve on it during the upper secondary phase.  Given the tracked nature of its lower and upper secondary systems - often associated across countries with greater inequality in skills - Singapore also has rather less unequal skills outcomes that might be expected.  In PISA 2009 Singapore’s country rank position on the skills Gini measure of inequality was low to average – 20th out of 28 countries for Reading and 15th out of 30 countries for Maths. Notably, Singapore had a very low proportion scoring at below level 2 in Reading (12 percent against the OECD average of 19 percent), with only five countries scoring better on this measure.  Skills inequality at age 18-20 in SAS was again quite low in both skills domains, with Singapore ranked 23rd out 32 countries on the skills Gini measure of inequality for literacy and 26th out of 32 countries on that measure for numeracy.  In almost all countries, literacy skills inequality falls during the upper secondary phase, although by different amounts. In numeracy six countries see increases in inequality with the remainder seeing a reduction.  Singapore was less successful than many countries in reducing inequality in literacy, with 17 countries doing better and 11 worse. However, in numeracy it was among the most successful in inequality mitigation, with only five of 32 countries doing better.  In common with most other countries which perform relatively well in raising skills levels and reducing inequalities, Singapore has high rates of participation and completion in long-cycle upper secondary and training, with a high proportion of students in vocational programmes. However, the proportion of vocational students undertaking work-based learning - through work-experience placements, internships or school-based apprenticeships - remains comparatively low.
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