Thursday, May 14, 2015

On IDA, fake degrees, and investing in human capital.

It looks like a previous employer of mine is unable to get itself out of the limelight. First it was Alan Ramos, then xenophobes decided to take issue with the Deputy Chairman's FT status and now there's an issue with IDA hiring folks with dubious qualifications.

As Singaporeans, we need to be fair to IDA.

Thanks to IDA, we have relatively fast internet connections, just try logging in in parts of the US if you do not believe me. As a foot soldier when the hackers attacked government websites, I was proud of the defence we made. I am also fairly pleased with some changes IDA made after I left which gave technologists and geeks a decent functional specialist track.

But this issue of fake degrees is not something alumni like myself would be proud of, but for reasons which has yet been shared on the Internet.

Follow my train of thought here :

a) Society rewards those with the greater success intelligence.

You have to agree with my assumption before I proceed.

I apologise if it sounds elitist.

I define success intelligence as a combination of intelligence, conscientiousness and intensity independent of paper qualifications. This blend of factors allows someone to draw the highest pay and reap the biggest rewards of society.

Unfortunately, companies can only reward a certain percentage of folks with the highest success intelligence.

b) Increasing local university intake cannot broaden the number of great jobs for more citizens.

There are limits to what increasing local university intake can do. If we are lucky, a new cluster of industries can form and generate fresh jobs for graduates for most graduates but otherwise, the number of great jobs remain the same, and the bar will be lifted to admit only graduates with a special honours or cum laude classification.

My first job was with Procter and Gamble, the number 1 employer in Singapore today. They conduct their own entrance exam.

c) This create a problems for Singaporeans who cannot ordinary get into a local university.

Local employers simply do not have great jobs for these Singaporeans who have mid-range success intelligence. But there are plenty of decent or good jobs.

d) Majority of citizens mistakenly associate a degree as the sole requirement to getting a great job.

Once you see another citizen obtain a great job because he went to NUS, NTU or SMU, you start to think how your life would be different had you obtained a degree.

You mistake the degree as key to getting a great job, when in fact, MNCs have only these limited jobs and are looking for the best people regardless of paper qualifications.

e) Getting an overseas or private degree will not resolve your problem.

HR departments were very willing to accept overseas or private degrees in the past when only 15% of the population can get local degrees. These days with 25% local intake for universities, HR departments have plenty of local graduates to choose from, so instead folks with private degrees get treated as non-degree holders in the 1980s with a poorer starting pay or 6 month contract offers.

f) The government wishes to prevent over-investment in education.

Diploma holders getting private or overseas degrees are a huge strain on the economy. They delay getting a decent income for a qualification which makes a little difference to their human capital.

This is an investment mistake. It is tantamount to buying a bond that defaults on its coupons.

The government launches ASPIRE to try to create better jobs for everyone regardless of paper qualifications to provide options to Singaporeans who do not make that "investment mistake".

g) This is where IDA opens a huge can of worms which can erode public trust for the whole of Government.

This explains why IDA has so much to answer for.

Singaporeans are already very upset that they have to settle for second best.

Our polytechnics have higher standards compared to many universities in emerging economies. It does not feel right that a Singaporean who plays by the rules have to contend with foreigners even with unaccredited qualifications, if anything the role of Application Consultant should have gone to a Polytechnic diploma holder with some added industrial training from ISS.

Why ?

Because IDA is a seen as part of the public service which in turn is driving for ASPIRE and wants it reduce instances of poor investment in our human capital assets.

h) The good faith argument is invalid.

The fact that an agency worker took an unaccredited degree in good faith is no defence.

Singaporeans also have good faith in our local institutions.  We want to believe that our local ITE and diploma qualifications can entitle us to local jobs as well.

i) Smart City should start acting Smart.

There is nothing stopping MOE from creating a list of degree mills and unaccredited institutions and placing it in a dataset for hackers to play around with. After all, we are very clear as to what universities our lawyers can come from before they can practice.

We pay taxes, why leave this to the private sector ?

At the moment, I think IDA has to beyond proving that Nisha took an unaccredited qualification in good faith.

What Singaporeans want to see is this:

IDA needs to prove that Nisha's original degree from the University of Mumbai which got her into the organisation in the first place, is better than a top flight computer science diploma student in our local Polytechnics.

If IDA thinks that her degree is better than our local polytechnics, it should be a public declaration so that MOE can reconsider the way we educate our diploma students.


  1. hi christopher,

    definitely agree with point A.

    about the labour market in general, i believe it is quite segmented.

    for the top jobs, the supply of labour is limited.

    however, for most jobs labour is more of a commodity which leads to price becoming the dominant factor in decision making

    everyone needs to spend wisely right?

  2. This is a serious problem. The rise of the second machine age will create a number of excellent jobs at the expense of the rest.