“We agree that the progression of all public officers should be based on their proven job performance and potential to contribute. All officers are thus put through a rigorous and holistic appraisal process, which includes assessment among peers at the same level within an agency” (Scholarship Holders Work At Entry-Level Positions, Miss Ong Poh Chin).
With the recent ministerial proclamations on how polytechnic graduates should seek work upon graduation, and how a university degree does not necessarily grant one a good job, the reply from Miss Ong Poh Chin of the Public Service Division, unfortunately, leaves some questions unanswered or unconfirmed. In response to two queries in TODAY, the letter – “Scholarship Holders Work At Entry-Level Positions” (May 24, 2013) – does fairly establish that scholars do have to work their way up the public service hierarchy, and many have been involved in community activities. Increasingly, it has also been reflected that participation in volunteerism and related endeavours are crucial in the scholarship application process.
Generally-speaking, as it has been propagated that polytechnic graduates are more competent in vocational or technical professions and university graduates more suited for administrative careers, Miss Ong’s explanation will not be surprising. She explains, “diploma holders generally engage in different types of work and responsibilities from degree holders”. Nevertheless, it might be meaningful to comprehend these distinctions specifically, and for Miss Ong to furnish more details about how these differences are determined.
Even so, I feel that Miss Jace Loi’s question (Scholars Should Start From Bottom, Too, May 20, 2013) has not been addressed adequately. We can certainly accept the significance for a corporation or an organisation to design recruitment strategies or criteria to decide who to groom. Yet, perhaps the popular proposition that one’s performance in school – academic grades, co-curricular or leadership participation – will necessarily be an accurate indicator of what he is capable of in the workplace should not be conveniently taken for granted. Beyond the scholastic rigour that is typically associated with policy work, empathy and a cognisance of on-the-ground frustrations would appear to be equally valuable traits.
Miss Ong argues that the public service’s pay structure is pegged to the market, but likewise, the way the public service designs its remuneration packages would also – in turn – influence how the private sector does so, and would also influence public perceptions. Will diploma holders be given the opportunity to compete with their graduate counterparts, and will they be assured of promotion and recognition if their performances are outstanding? Much has been said about the supposed glass ceiling that confronts non-scholars (and some might not be convinced by present justifications), but what about the one that seems to keep non-graduates out? More information on the aforementioned is important, because it would influence how students – especially those with aspirations to excel in the public service – chart their education pathway from the get-go.
At the end of the day, Miss Ong’s letter is likely to convince more students of the importance of a degree, because without that – not to mention the scholarships – an individual is unlikely to engage in the same roles and responsibilities, even if he might be truly proficient.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.