By Charlene Koh
For two former classmates and entrepreneurs, Ho Chang Jun and Eugene Cheng, going to university to complete a degree was a risk not worth taking.
“In (university) you learn a lot of things, but not all of them are applicable, maybe 10 per cent to 20 per cent of what you’ve learnt will be useful. That means you’re wasting 80 per cent of your money and time in a school environment,” says Chang Jun, who feels that taking a degree is a bigger risk as compared to going out into the workforce to run his own start-up.
The 23-year-old was offered a place in Singapore Management University (SMU) but rejected the offer and went off the beaten path to start Gram, a marketing video and animation company that has done work for companies like the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and The Arts House.
Even though he feels that going to university is still a good option as it gives most graduates the safety net of a stable job, the time invested in a university education may hinder potential opportunities to pick up new skills.
“Learning is in the doing,” Chang Jun says. Starting his own business has allowed him to pick up and refine skills such as design and animation which he did not excel in during his time in the School of Business and Accountancy (BA) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP).
Eugene tells a similar story, and agrees with Chang Jun that a university degree does not necessarily equate to success in life.
“(People) think that you need to go to university, you need to follow a certain path or you need to be doctor, lawyer, or some type of professional office position to be a success. And I would say that in today’s society that’s not necessarily true,” he says, a sentiment shared by many youths which were echoed in a survey done by npTribune.
The survey showed that 64 per cent of youths aged 18 to 24 feel that a degree does not guarantee security in future job prospects while 53 per cent of respondents support alternative paths such as internships or short courses as a means of self-enrichment in place of the traditional route of obtaining a degree.
Eugene forwent a university education in order to run his presentation, storytelling and training agency, Highspark. The idea was birthed from the realisation of the commercial value for his presentation skills during his time competing at business competitions at NP. Four years on, the start-up has has helped companies like Panasonic, Nike and A*Star with their presentations.
“My friends are graduating and they’re telling me that they didn’t really get a lot from university other than the experiences and the friends that they met,” Eugene says. He adds that despite that, university is not a useless experience, but forgoing it just comes at an opportunity cost.
The government has also been actively trying promote an alternative career path with the SkillsFuture scheme’s Earn and Learn Programme (ELP) for polytechnic students, aiming to give them a head start in the workforce, obtain and build on the skills learnt in school.