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Getting the right skills

More universities are now offering postgraduate courses that cater to the fast-changing work environment.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 05:50

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UniSIM (above) offers courses that are relevant to the needs of teachers and educators who work in a globalised world.

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Prof Suwardy (above, with students) says that SMU's postgraduate programmes have over the years become increasingly practice-oriented.

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SMU postgraduate students on campus (above) - the university had almost 700 students graduating with a master's degree last year, compared with about 300 in 2011.

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UniSIM's Prof Lee (above) says that the university's newer courses provide students with an insight into the methodology of teaching English as a second or foreign language in the digital age.

NEW disruptive technologies are fuelling a revolution in the global workplace. Automation is displacing traditional jobs, even as new ones are being created to service an innovation-led economy. Indeed, some 65 per cent of primary school students will end up working in jobs that don't exist today, according to a forecast reported in The New York Times.

As a result, those entering the workforce will need to possess new skills and knowledge to thrive in such a fast-changing landscape. Meanwhile, mid-career professionals may need to retool their skill sets in order to stay relevant.

Recognising these changing dynamics, progressive tertiary educational institutions are offering postgraduate programmes designed to help today's working professional succeed - whether by tweaking the curricula of traditional courses, such as those in finance and business, or by creating new ones.

"We need to be aware of the transformation that is taking place, and pick up new knowledge that will help us navigate the changing landscape," says associate professor Themin Suwardy, Singapore Management University's (SMU) dean of postgraduate professional programmes.

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MORE PROGRAMMES, STUDENTS

Singaporeans seem to be biting, as they seek to upgrade themselves. For instance, the National University of Singapore (NUS) had 5,100 students enrolled in its master's programmes in the last academic year, up 7 per cent from five years ago. Around half of these students are local. It has also added 11 master's programmes since 2011, bringing its total to 114.

SMU, meanwhile, had almost 700 students graduating with a master's degree last year, compared with about 300 in 2011. It currently has 21 master's programmes, up from 12 in 2010. Singaporeans and permanent residents made up about a third of last year's intake.

More graduate students are also looking to learn "adjacencies" - knowledge related to their original area of expertise - to help them better understand their environment. In this regard, MBA-type courses with a real-world emphasis continue to be a popular course of study.

SMU's postgraduate programmes, for instance, have over the years become increasingly practice-oriented, according to Prof Suwardy. "We find that the key to postgraduate education is to go beyond the simple concepts of exposure and comprehension, and move toward integration, synthesis and the ability to create new knowledge. Learning through a mix of case studies, project-based assignments, consultative experiences and internships, our students become both problem-spotters and problem-solvers," he points out.

Beyond mastery of knowledge, today's working professional also needs to learn evergreen skills such as communication, team work and leadership to navigate change and disruption. Furthermore, a graduate programme also helps to sharpen students' analytical skills and prepare them to deal with more complex and unknown problems of the future. SMU helps its postgraduate students develop these skills through a platform known as Professional Development Series (PDS) workshops, where master's students learn interdisciplinary skills beyond their specific disciplines.

At the workshops, students can choose from a range of topics including conflict management, negotiation, the art of giving feedback, design thinking, sustainability, leadership, and innovation. Students are also exposed to the latest research from SMU. For example, students from any discipline can learn more about data analytics and service excellence, among other subjects.

Universities are also introducing new courses that are more relevant to the working world today. NUS has offered three new programmes this year, in chemistry for energy and environment, Chinese culture and language and international arbitration and dispute resolution, to meet higher demand for personnel with such expertise.

SIM University (UniSIM) - which has been earmarked to become Singapore's sixth autonomous university - offers courses that are relevant to the needs of teachers and educators who work in a globalised world. Examples of these courses include "Global English and Language Teaching' and "Academic Discourse: English in a Global Context".

"These courses and others provide students with an insight into the methodology of teaching English as a second or foreign language in the digital age," says UniSIM's associate professor Benny Lee.

One of the university's newer offerings is the MA in Applied Linguistics (TESOL), which saw its first intake of students in July last year. The programme is open to all candidates with a good first degree in English, linguistics or a related field, and is open to both experienced and novice teachers. TESOL refers to "Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages", a professional association with a mission to ensure excellence in English language.

The programme caters to the needs of language teachers of different backgrounds from the local school system and tertiary institutions to the private sector.

It is also suitable for both experienced language instructors or administrators as well as professionals in other fields who are considering a mid-career switch. Designed with the working adult in mind, the course offers flexible learning platforms, including face-to-face seminars, online recorded lectures, webinars, and other e-learning tools (see sidebar).

PLUGGING THE TALENT GAP

SMU's Master of Science in Innovation, meanwhile, is the only Asia-focused programme designed to teach about how to think and act like an innovator and entrepreneur. "It is designed to engage, challenge and grow Asia's next generation of innovation leaders who are ready to think big, disrupt and differentiate. The innovative pedagogy supports Asia's need for new business creation and innovation," explains Prof Suwardy.

Another programme that is geared towards plugging today's talent gap is SMU's Master of IT in Business (MITB), which looks to fill growing demand for analytics and technology professionals who are industry ready. And to cater to the growing field of financial technology (fintech), the university will be launching its new MITB - Financial Technology (FinTech) Track in August 2017.

Adds Prof Suwardy: "It is the first of its kind in Singapore and the world that blends traditional and emerging disruptive financial technology together with business knowledge and innovation. It is the transformative education platform to bridge the present to the future."

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