Will taking a degree from private institution give me a better life? Graduate Employment survey of PEIs

One of the most important criteria for deciding the course of choice is obviously, its potential salary. That’s where GES comes in. GES is short for “Graduate Employment Survey”, a survey conducted with graduating seniors each year to arrive at the median/average salary of a particular course & school.

Here at Digital Senior, we have been publishing GES data of public universities year on year to aid juniors in making informed choices when it comes to this 2nd most important life decision (Most important is who to marry). For the longest time, we have lamented being unable to help those choosing private institutions as much, due to the limited information available out there.

Now, things have changed. The ‘police’ of the private education sector, CPE (Committee for Private Education) has made moves towards greater transparency in this area. It is now mandatory for PEIs offering full-time external degrees (degrees awarded by overseas partner universities) to take part in a GES of their own. Its inaugural survey (expanding beyond aggregated figures) was released in October 2017.

We have consolidated the latest Private Education GES data for your convenience down below

Overall employment rateFull-time employment rateMedian Salary
Private Institutions with EDPs84.30%60.10%$2,550
Public universities89.60%79.9%$3,325


Schools with FT External Degree Programmes
SchoolYearEmployment rate*Full-time (perm)Median SalaryResponse rate
CPE’s GES (2015 May-2016 Apr)
Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) 2015/1685.50%61.60%$2,60039% (2,109)
Kaplan Higher Education Academy83.30%54.40%$2,50027% (228)
Curtin Education Centre76.00%58.00%$2,50014% (50)
Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS)77.60%51.00%$2,45015% (49)
Air Transport Training College77.30%50.00%$2,00070% (22)
East Asia Institute of Management77.30%54.50%$1,95013% (22)
SMF Institute of Higher Learning73.70%42.10%$2,40035% (19)
James Cook University64.70%35.30%$2,15014% (17)
Raffles College of Higher Education60.00%40.00%$2,4006% (15)
ERC Institute85.70%71.40%$2,5509% (14)
TMC Academy66.70%41.70%$2,65029% (12)
CPE’s 2014 results201479.00%58.00%$2,70033.33% (4,200)
Individually conducted
PSB Academy201587%14% (463)
Parkway College of Nursing & Allied Health201696%
Auston Institute of Management201660%
First Media Design School201490% (3 mths)

*usually within 6 months unless otherwise stated

The release of CPE’s inaugural PEI GES was, unsurprisingly, accompanied by intense discussions and media coverage about the prospects of a private degree holder. Given that private school candidates are still an underserved group, we want to give our take on this topic as well.

As with previous years, an article was written showing an aggregated median salary ($2,550) and full-time job rate (84.3%) of external degree and diploma graduates from private institutions, which (still) concluded that PEI grads face a tougher situation in the job market than public university graduates.

Our first reaction, duh, isn’t that already obvious? For the following reasons:

  1. Sectors with high starting salary such as in the civil service do not readily hire private school graduates. Though the situation is changing (or said to be changing), we are not 100% sure if it has taken effect.
  2. Public universities run specialized courses including medicine, law and dentistry that tilt the balance in their favour. The aforementioned 3 courses have been the highest-paying degrees for the longest time. For the same reason, the median salary of NTU graduates always pales in comparison to that of NUS grads. (NTU does not have a law or dentistry course)
  3. If grads from private institutions command a higher salary, you would be filling in the application form to enrol as a student now. But, you probably would not get in because all the top students will be applying too. That means private and public schools’ roles are reversed. (Makes sense?) Case in point, Harvard University is a private school in the USA and it remains to be seen if their public school counterparts will measure up in producing graduates who are sought after in the real world.

Is a degree from PEI worth it?

Let’s put it this way. Only 27% of students in every batch makes it to public universities each year. For the rest of the people, it is not a consideration of whether to go to public university or not, since it is out of the question.

In most cases, the consideration would be: status quo vs going to PEI.

For simplicity, we assume status quo is an ITE or diploma qualification.

The median starting salary of PEI degree grads currently stands at $2,550 a month, with 60.1% full-time employment rate.

ITEDiplomaPEI degree grads
Median Salary$1700$2180$2550
Median Salary (adjusted for pay increment of 5% over 3 years)$1968$2,523$2550

Source: Polyges.sg 2016

Even after compensating for annual pay increment of 5% over a 3 years degree period(assuming you take full-time studies), the pay of diploma holders does not supersede that of PEI degree graduates. (Note that we are referring to the median/average and that there will be exceptions.) On top of that, what is shown here is merely the starting salary; the difference is likely to further widen as time progresses.

This is especially true when you are seeking to transition into a managerial position which mostly considers only degree holders. U.S.News explains that most managerial positions require at least a degree because, as a degree holder, one is proven to have demonstrated competency in areas such as writing, thinking and expertise in their field.


This isn’t unique to Singapore. Numerous studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between one’s years of schooling and one’s earnings after graduation. This means the more schooling one has, the higher one’s salary. The biggest jump in earnings is 37%, which happens when one transits from high school to university, meaning between a non-degree holder to a degree holder.

Why is this so?

In many companies, especially MNCs, every job opening attracts a horde of resumes. HR departments are not staffed like factories. Hence they adopt systems such as candidate scoring to filter resumes and get to the right candidate quickly. This means that your resume can automatically get filtered out by the HR if you are not a degree-holder.

In this globalized society, the reality is that your resume is put alongside that of many other well-qualified individuals from all around the world. In Taiwan for example, the number of people with degree qualifications has increased to 42.68% of the population (over 15 years old) as of 2015. There is an increasing trend in places such as India and China as well.

Having a degree puts you on equal footing with other candidates and grants you more opportunities in life.  According to Ms Lance, Regional director of employment agency Riverchelles International, Candidates from both public and private institutions stand a “good chance” of being hired.

Are all higher education institutions equal?

The last thing you want is to get a degree that is not recognized. All your effort would have gone down the drain. Hence, you want to take a deeper look into graduate employment surveys which most leading private institutions make public. After all, how else should parents and aspiring students gauge the quality of an institution or its external degree programme offered offshore in Singapore?

Public universities have been releasing annual aggregated employment figures for the longest time. While PEIs have finally done the same, which is helpful to a certain extent, it doesn’t actually say much.


Industry observers have noted the homogeneity between public universities, a point which was brought up in our interview with an award-winning HR manager. Therefore, if you hail from schools such as NTU/SMU/NUS, the aggregated employment figure is arguably an accurate indicator of your job prospects.

Notice, however, that the salary figures for PEIs are not as specific as those from public universities. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since a more diverse group is seen in PEIs. Some of them experienced working adults, some fresh out of poly, others could even be graduates from universities in foreign countries. They all have different starting points, and would rightfully command different salaries when they graduate. To compare private institutions further, check out our guide to choosing private institutions.

Coming back to PEIs. Do you know there are over 300 PEIs in Singapore?  And standards can vary quite drastically? Some of them may have even close shop before you complete your studies, as with the case of M2 academy in 2015. For this reason, you should take the PEI aggregated figures with a pinch of salt. Instead, you should look at the Graduate employment survey results of the individual private institutions.

Another thing to consider is that PEIs tend to have more international students within their ranks, many of which return to their home countries to find employment. The ratio of international to local students, in fact, is estimated to be 1:2.6. 62% of graduates that responded to James Cook University’s 2015 GES, for example, were international students, and 38% found employment outside Singapore.

How does this affect things?

Different countries have different economic landscapes and this results in varying climates within their respective job markets. Thus, things like demands for specific roles, employment rates, and pay will differ country to country. One example: Singapore, as we all know, is on the road to becoming a Smart Nation, so demand for tech experts will see an increase for the next few years. Meanwhile, wage growth in India for lower-skilled industries slowed in 2017 (Hays Global Skills Index 2017).

The employment rates in any GES (and especially so for PEI GESes), therefore, will not be an entirely accurate reflection of Singapore’s job market, and should not be taken as such.

Benefits beyond numbers

A line of disclaimer here-Please use the above with discretion.

If you have been reading some of our stuff here, you know we are never a proponent of the default path. “Go to university because that’s what everyone is doing” is a recipe for mid-life crises.  Kiasuism is usually not a very reliable guiding compass. To find yourself, the best way is to try different things.  From there, you can figure out what interests you most.

While it is important to look at employment data, it shouldn’t be the only basis for decision making.

This is the message that the government has been trying to drive home too; not to get a degree for the sake of it. The main motivation should be to dive deeper into your area of interest and to further sharpen your saw of proficiency. If you are clueless, check out our guide on how to choose a major.

To study or not to study

After exploring the benefits of going to private education institution, it is only appropriate that we cover all grounds by showing you the costs as well. Well, since we have gone that far, might as well do a costs-benefits analysis (one of the frameworks we learnt in university :p).

Costs-Benefit Analysis

Go to PEIDon’t go to PEI
Costs16-40k SGD
  • Less choices.
  • Less pay
  • Make friends from around the world
  • Build network with profs and adjunct lecturer-industry practitioners
  • Study a subject in an area of interest
  • More time
  • More money

Like all other choices in life, the decision whether to pursue an education in private institution or not involves priorities. Most of the benefits associated with getting a degree are intangible, whereas the costs are actually very real. If you have a farmer’s attitude and do not mind planting the seeds now only to reap a harvest sometime down the road, by all means, go for a degree. On the other hand, if you are someone who wants to have potatoes now.i.e. you crave for instant gratification, it will be hard for you to see through the 2 to 3 years of studies.

Some food for thought(no pun intended). What would you be doing with an extra 16 -40k and 20 hours a week?

You are probably familiar with the face below. Maybe you made him your idol at some point. Warren Buffet, an investment guru, actually endorses education as a form of self-investment. One interesting thing of note:$16-40k barely makes for a significant investment amount. However, when used as an investment in yourself, it actually counts for something. It moves you one notch higher in life to become a degree holder, widens your horizons and provides you with more opportunities and options in life.


Source: http://www.inc.com/chris-winfield/warren-buffet-says-to-invest-as-much-as-you-can-in-this-and-here-s-how-anyone-ca.html

Likewise for time. Albert Einstein has told us that time is elastic. Most of us have experienced the shock moment- where we look at the watch in disbelief, to find out “it’s already 11 pm”. “I thought I started surfing Facebook only after dinner.”  Well, that’s because time is elastic and it stretches & slips by without you knowing. A school environment with a fixed schedule forces you to spend time meaningfully.

Where got money?

Fair enough, Singapore is one of the most expensive places to live in.  Being a fulltime student without any income can be a scary endeavour for many people who are not as financially privileged.

But who says you have to study fulltime?

This is another of PEI’s advantage actually. It allows you to work AND study- best of both worlds. Public universities also have this scheme but it is limited to engineering students at this point. Work-and-study means you can learn and earn at the same time! Of course, you have to manage your time well and it won’t be easy(who says success is easy?) but many people have done it and shared their stories in Digital Senior, such as Evelyn.

What we are trying to say here is that financial difficulties shouldn’t be a stumbling block in your ascent up the social ladder, especially in a meritocratic society like Singapore. Call us naive but we believe that people who are willing to work hard will always see the light of the day, no matter what. Financial aids are readily available. Student loans with low-interest rate are up for grabs. Local credit cooperative, TCC extends affordable student loans at only 2.2% interest! With everything set, the onus is up to yourself to take the chance to elevate your lot in life!



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