Thursday, August 08, 2019

Harsh truths about local degree programs #2 - The Final Word

Before I begin...

Ok, the first installation of this article went quietly viral. While there was no discussion on this blog, but the viewership hit the roof and it became one of the most popular articles this year. 

Before I get to the substance of what I have to share today, I'd just like to address the commonly encountered criticism of my article. Some folks argued that choosing a degree for vocational reasons undermines the spirit of learning. 

I think these critics need to check their privilege. 

Singapore degrees are vocational ! 

A substantial proportion of the Singapore population have degrees and it forms a major part of their Singapore Dream. A degree is no longer some kind of license to hide on top of an ivory tower so that you can intellectually masturbate to academic papers written on Phenomenology or 12th Century Zoroastrian writings.  In order for Singaporean's FIRE aspirations to be met, society must deem their academic qualifications to be useful. 

Also, the folks who defend their love of learning conveniently ignore the fact that a lot of working class Singaporeans take on loans to study for their qualifications. Many of such loans come from their parent's CPF ordinary account so paying back is a priority. I think they also exaggerate how much a degree plays into a person's identity - a complete education often involves a constellation of CCAs as well as networks that can give a person a social and cultural advantage throughout their entire lives. 

Even if critics can muster a stronger argument, the POTS framework remain a tool for folks who are aiming to FIRE at a younger age. If FIRE is your aim, then you need a degree that can put as much money in your pocket quickly so that you can build up a portfolio faster than your peers, so having a higher pay to offset your study loan takes priority.

That being said, we can now refine the POTS model into something that is a lot more useful than what was first suggested by Kristy Shen. 

First, I adjusted the minimum salary to follow the average salary of an A level graduate which is quite low at $1,600 a month. Once I do this, however, the three year non-honors degrees get a huge bump because school fees are much lower. 

(We even managed to get a situation whereby a non-honours Arts degree has a higher POTS score than an engineering degree, but an honors Arts degree fared worst !)

So the model can be improved further. For most practical purposes, salary information does not fully describe the usefulness of a degree. 

What's equally important is the employment rate of fresh graduates.

I took a stricter definition of an employment rate that only considers permanent employment in the Adjusted POTS calculation - this is due to my opinion that nobody chooses a degree just so that he can drive Grab or sell insurance. Most of us mortals seek employment in a steady job that pays a decent salary.

Also, the Nursing and Accounting degrees were introduced to make the table more useful.

Multiplying the original POTS score by the employment resulted in this table :

Once we introduce the employment figures, Medicine remains the choice only for the most dedicated A level students. Once you see the score for a medical degree, can you even blame our doctors for wanting to specialize instead of becoming a GP and serving the community?

Science degrees remain a horrible idea unless the government can intervene to subsidize these degrees more generously. The employment rate is also atrocious. We urgently need to come up with new jokes about our science majors becoming baristas and serving french fries in Singapore. We've been unnecessarily mean to humanities majors for far too long.

Music and the Liberal Arts remains the degree only for the hopelessly insane, woke or fabulously wealthy. Like I said on social media, Yale-NUS is not the same as Yale. The same way Lippo-Mapletree is not the same as Mapletree. 

Business, Accounting, Law and Computing remains decent choices for FIRE enthusiasts have an Adjusted POTS above 0.5 and I am quite glad that to see that Nursing numbers are not bad as well ! 

So cross your fingers, my BBFA friends ! 

One day some hot nurse might join our financial blogging community !


  1. 1 comment about Arts & Science --- if you end up in one of these becoz can't make it for other choices, then my advice is try to get at least 2nd Upper. DON'T SETTLE for 3 years basic degree.

    A good honours degree (from a "preferred" Uni of course) is still required for most better stat boards & ministries where starting salaries are closer to $4K. And believe you me, you can FIRE within 10-15 yrs in one of these more "prestigious" civil services. Or you can learn to play politics & skive for 40 years drawing 5-figure++ salaries & 3-6 months bonuses, and buying good properties whenever there's a recession.

    All part of personal finance of course LOL!!!

    As for "hot nurses" in FIRE community --- more likely it'll be male nurses. So unless you're gay or female....

  2. Yeah, employment rate of a non-honors Arts and Science major is horrible.