How Meritocracy Affects Singapore’s Students & the Job Market |


Are you worried about your job prospects after you graduate? You’re not alone. Many students are concerned about their ability to find a job in today’s competitive market. In the minds of many Singaporeans, attending a private education institute (PEI) can make it even more challenging to secure employment. Employers often value degrees from “prestigious” public universities, even though admission to these universities may not be accessible to students with academic capability.

Public universities in Singapore are widely regarded as the most prestigious and selective institutions, and admission is highly competitive and based primarily on academic achievement. PEIs, on the other hand, tend to be less selective and may provide alternative pathways to higher education for students who may not meet the strict academic requirements of public universities.

Hence, graduates of PEIs may face more challenges in securing employment, as their academic credentials may not be viewed as highly by employers. They also tend to get lower salaries.

While Singapore’s education system is generally considered to be meritocratic, some critics argue that there are still disparities in access to education. For example, students from more affluent families may have access to better resources and private tuition, giving them an advantage in the highly competitive admission process.

The issue with meritocracy

George Orwell’s famous quote from Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” written in 1949, still resonates today.

Recently, President Halimah highlighted that the current education and employment system, although promoting meritocracy, is not inclusive. Those who come from privileged backgrounds still have an advantage over those who do not, revealing that not all individuals are on an equal playing field.

Meritocracy, in theory, is a system in which individuals are rewarded based on their abilities and achievements. However, in practice, there are several reasons why meritocracy can be problematic or even harmful:

It can perpetuate inequality: Meritocracy assumes that everyone starts with equal opportunities to develop their abilities and talents. However, in reality, people are born into different circumstances, such as wealth, education, and social networks, which can significantly impact their chances of success. Meritocracy can therefore entrench existing inequalities and privilege those who are already advantaged.

It can lead to a narrow definition of merit: Meritocracy tends to focus on specific skills or qualities, such as academic intelligence, rather than considering a broader range of abilities, experiences, and perspectives. This narrow definition of merit can exclude people who possess different types of talents and skills, which can be just as valuable in certain contexts.

It can create intense competition and stress: Meritocracy often encourages competition and a winner-takes-all mentality. This can lead to individuals being pitted against each other, causing stress, burnout, and mental health problems.

It can discourage collaboration and teamwork: Meritocracy can create a culture where individuals are incentivised to prioritize their own success over the success of the group. This can undermine teamwork, collaboration, and collective problem-solving.

It can undermine empathy and social responsibility: Meritocracy can encourage individuals to view their success as solely their own achievement, rather than acknowledging the role that broader societal structures and support networks play in facilitating success. This can lead to a lack of empathy and social responsibility, as individuals may feel less compelled to use their success to help others or to advocate for social justice.

What does this mean for grads from PEIs?

It’s important to remember that education is not always a linear pathway. Just because you may not attend a “prestigious” public university doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in your career. There are other paths to success. There are several solutions that can help you improve their job prospects, including:

Practical experience: Employers often value real-world experience, so gaining practical experience through internships, co-op programmes, or volunteer work can be an excellent way to stand out in the job market.

Strong network: Connections matter more than you think. Building relationships with professionals in your desired field can help you learn more about the industry and find job opportunities. Attend networking events, connect with alumni from your school, and use social media platforms like LinkedIn to expand your network.

Emphasise skills and achievements: Even if you didn’t attend a “prestigious” public university, you may still have valuable skills and achievements that make you an attractive job candidate. Focus on highlighting these in your resume, cover letter, and job interviews.

Explore alternative career paths: There are many different career paths out there, so don’t limit yourself to a specific field or industry. Consider exploring different options that align with your interests and strengths.

Overall, while Singapore’s education system is widely regarded as successful, there is always room for improvement. By taking a more balanced approach that considers factors beyond academic achievement, Singapore could help to create a more equitable and inclusive education system.