Paper qualifications are just paper qualifications

Whenever someone says that he/she is furthering his studies, most people would respond positively. Unless I'm close to the person, I would just say, "That's good."

A friend who completed his MBA in a prestigious business school in the US told me that another friend sent him an email asking, "I want to further my studies in the US. Which university is good?" He replied asking her what she planned on studying and what she wanted to do after graduation. He didn't receive a reply from her after that. Many people don't have the answers to these questions. They study because they haven't figured out what they want to do with their lives (it can happen to any one of any age). By the way, non-prestigious MBA's are worthless.

You know how many people feel insecure about everyone on the street having a bachelor's degree and a master's degree is going to be the minimum qualification in the future? Another friend who studied for a tech master's degree admitted to me that he did so out of lack of confidence in himself. To reassure himself he studied for a Master's degree. He also thought that it would help advance his career. In the end, he realised that it didn't help him achieve his objectives at all.

I'm sure we all know at least one degree holders who can't do a half-decent job in his/her so-called area of specialisation and at least one other person who only has secondary school education but excels in what he/she does. I think only basic education is necessary for the majority of people. Maths, finance, economics, language skills... basically be able to speak, read, write, count and know how money goes around.

The main purpose of paper qualifications in Singapore now is to enable the human resource (HR) practitioners to screen candidates for jobs and to determine their salaries. To get into HR, you'll also need paper qualifications. Without the paper, HR will have no idea how to select and compensate employees. That must have been what they studied in school.

I dislike the practice of selecting employees based on paper qualifications. I dislike it because sometimes have to work with colleagues who don't have basic knowledge in their own field, zero financial sense (can't even calculate profit and loss), write atrocious and offensive emails to clients, are rude and have bad attitude, can't do a proper job, etc. How did they get hired?? And why are they not fired??

I completely disagree with having salary ceilings for those who do not have the "necessary" paper qualifications. I have a friend who studied to get a degree because of the salary ceiling. I have another friend whose colleagues encourage him to get a degree for a better salary in the long run. It's sad that salary is based on paper qualifications when it should be based on job performance.

As long as the government structure salaries and hire employees this way, companies in the private sector continue to do so. Although the government claims to have no control over what the private sector does, let's not forget that change usually happens from top-down.
The reason why nothing is going to be done about this is: the education industry needs people to want the qualifications in order to survive, more students means growth for the economy, the government want to grow the economy. The government encourages lifelong learning.

Of course, the government never stated that lifelong learning meant having to get paper qualifications. It's up to people to interpret it. The first thing most people run out to do when they want to learn something new is to sign up for a course. There is so much one can learn independently for free. There are many great books available in the public library in Singapore. There's no need to run out to take a course to learn something. People need to sign up for courses only because they need someone to tell them what is important, to force them to read or to obtain a piece of paper. My rock climbing buddy told me that people in a rock climbing course who can't even climb a 2-meter wall will still get a certificate!

As much as I would like to think that education is a form of mental training, I think it cannot bring out what was not already there. E.g. studying computer programming doesn't make a person more logical. I don't regret studying. I have been given opportunities that I wouldn't have had if I did not have the paper qualifications. If the world were different, I wouldn't have needed a degree. Well, but it's not.

Related post:
[Starting salaries of fresh graduates only get lower]


Anonymous said...

You are what you are because you never went thru' University to acquire an education.

And we can see that in your statement:-
"doesn't make a person more logical". A person can be a fucked up idiot or grown up thinker!

What does MORE logical mean? HOW CAN IT BE MORE LOGICAL!

Try that with a computer program, you will see that it either runs successfully with the correct result or it fails and produce the WRONG result.

Therefore, logic can only be right or wrong, it cannot be GRAY like "MORE LOGICAL"!

Junjie said...

Lots of wisdom here. I agree with you when you say that many Singaporeans further their studies when they don't know what to do (or don't dare to do what they need to do) and they do it to have someone else (lecturer, professor, etc) tell them what to do so they don't need to think for themselves.

That's just how most Singaporeans are! :)

Anonymous said...

True, I did pursue my degree because I do not know what I truly want, and I believe I need more time to think about it so I decided not to waste time just thinking.

Yu-Kym said...

Anon, when you wrote "you never went thru' University to acquire an education" were you referring to me?

Junjie, most Singaporeans need to be told what to do but they don't like being told what to do. They like to pay to be told what to do, especially where money is concerned, e.g. paying financial advisors and fund managers.

Anon, do you regret pursuing a degree?

Anonymous said...

"Anon, do you regret pursuing a degree? "

Absolutely NOT! I love my degree because it made me millions!

Do you think people would have voted for Con-You if he did NOT have a degree but worked as a warehouse manager at the Shell Depo or as a travelling watch salesman?

Yu-Kym said...

You don't sound at all like the same anonymous person who posted the initial comment.

Alvin said...

Time has changed. A degree is definitely a must have now especially when we are gonna find a good work in Singapore that offers a great pay.

Anonymous said...

"You don't sound at all like the same anonymous person who posted the initial comment. "

Of course I sound different.

In the first post, I am in my "persuasive mode" - pointing out the conceptual error in your statement.

In the second post, I am in my "assertive mode" because your question is the worst piece of crap I have ever heard!

Yu-Kym said...

Alvin, "good work" and "great pay" are relative. I'm not sure what good work is!

Anon, future comments with "Con-You" will be deleted. I trust people whose degree have earned them millions (of I-don't-know-what) can find better ways to express yourself.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous writer who asked what does 'More Logical' means.

Yu-Kym was refering to a Person, not a computer program.

A thinking mind may operate at a Lower level of logic and after gaining experience may operate at a higher level of logic.

Eg if a Chess Grandmaster eg Spasky was to play simultaneous matches with another Grandmaster (eg Gary Fisher) and a novice (eg John), it is entirely VALID to described the moves & counter moves by Gary Fisher as being MORE logical than John's. This is because Gary Fisher would be capable of deeper mental calculations than John on the number of permissable moves available to Spasky.

Therefore, when John attains the level of expertise of Gary Fisher, John is capable of being MORE logical in his thinking/reasoning process.

Does ANON still think there is a 'conceptual error' in Yu-Kym's statement?

And with due respect, what has Mr Lee Kuan Yew done to you or your kind to earn your displeasure?

I would like to make these suggestions to all readers. If any writer wishes to cast a slur on any public or private person,
(1)he should be invited to state his grounds for doing so,
(2) if he does state valid or truthful facts, I will personally acknowledged & thank him after verifying it with the person who suffered the slur,
(3) if he does not state any valid reasons, absence of reply would be sufficient validation the writer has no sense of fair play in his thinking faculties,
(4) there is no necessity to stoop to his level with a rejoinder that he is a coward, etc, etc. Lets just ignore his jibes and move the discussion on.

Thank you, Yu-Kym.

Regards, Leo

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

a university degree with millions of don't know what, very good to laugh respond from YK...millions of guffaws, that anonymous person has millions of melons in his head rofl hohohoho

Anonymous said...

You are what you are becasue you never receive a university education.

You should become another world famous porn star like the current world record holder for 500 men gangbang in a single session. She is a Singaporean.

That will do great honour to Singapore.

Anonymous said...

YK - you should turn this into a porn site as some of the world famous porn sites are based in Singapore.

Master said...

It's sad to see so many anonymous posting that criticise and comment but do not have the guts to leave at least nicknames....

I fully agree with what YK wrote...ppl don't have to be defensive about it....

But in Sg, that is the reality of life..tht's why I resist the temptation to work in SG (when I was based in JB)...Singaporeans are a different

Yu-Kym said...

Anon who said "You are what you are becasue you never receive a university education", you just proved my point that education cannot bring out or cultivate in people what's not already there.

Master, if those people think of themselves as highly educated and better than others and do nothing but criticise instead of engaging in thoughtful arguments, it only shows that the education system has failed.

Anonymous said...

Yu-kym, thank you for shielding our eyes from language of profanity from Anonymous who have this hung-up views of a Singapore Statesman.

On the subject of getting a university degree, attaining any academic qualification usually brings you to the Starting point of a career progression.

Years of experience is required before you attain a competant level of expertise in your field.

In fact, the more experience you gain, the more humble you become when you realised how little you know.

For those without a university degree, fret not.

If you are positive thinking, invite others to voice their views & be generous with the fruits of labour (read : get a cup of coffee for anyone labouring furiously at work). Eventually you will learn how to energise people to work in a co-operative spirit.

Stay back late if need be, just to offer morale support to a co-worker.

In 1977 when I was doing my National Service, our platoon had just completed an overnight formation assualt in the steaming forest. There was a long line of soldiers at the truck for our lunch rations.

Everyone was grumpy, tired, mud-caked & hungry. A platoon mate who finished the exercise earlier had a mess tin of steaming hot food. He knew I had skipped breakfast that day & gave his food to me, taking my place in the long line.

Both of us were playing the roles of section commanders & we had to run around a lot more to ensure all our troops were accounted for. We were monitored for endurance in both mind & body. There were 'observers' inserted in our formation to guage performance.

After half the formation had eaten their lunch, Exercise Controllers 'activated' a suprise attack on the Lunch position. They blanketed the lunch area with smoke bombs, thunder-flashes and demanded half of the soldiers still in the lunch line to lie down as 'casualties'.

We had to re-group, evacuate 'casualties' from the lunch position, & launch a counter-attack. Some of us on full-stomachs, some empty. The 'surprise attack' was only considered nullified if we captured half of the "enemy' forces and the rest forced to retreat to avoid being captured. Speed, ferocity(we dont treat 'Prisoners Of War' gently, we tie them to the trees while we hunt their comrades) & lightning quick co-ordination was a condition to pass this test.

2 hours after the Controllers declared the exercise completed, we returned to the lunch position to find all the hot food & containers deliberately strewn in the bushes (to simulate the effects of a shot-up truck).

And my platoon mate was one of those who had not eaten. The next hot food was the lunch truck the next day - if we did not repeat the mistake of failing to maintain adequate protection for the lunch position.

We were young then & cursed the controllers. Later, when they debriefed us on their methods & objectives, it became clear to us the value of looking after your team mate.

I must stress, he did not repeat this act again !!

Whwn you are willing to perform this type of sacrifice for your co-worker and vice-versa, you are indeed in Good Company.

Sadly, I saw very little (I counted 2 such persons) of it in the Real Estate sector of Singapore. What a pity, such an important industry being filled with some of the most dispicable characters in the human race.

Regards, Leo

Anonymous said...

Referring to Yu-Kym's last posting .."the education system has failed";

I am inclined to attribute other factors beside the "education system" that guided Anonymous.

Unless he was limited in his vocabulary, the arrogance he conveyed was a real put-off. His suggestions to turn this blog into porn-site is another vivid indication of his mental state. Nothing suits this character better than to heap scorn & profanity.

Such conduct cannot be due ONLY to the education system.

Did he learn manners from his elders?

Did he learn the meaning of the word, respect - some people know what is fear but not respect.

Blame no other, it is his choice to be what he is (and of course, some things are 'fixed').

Regards, Leo

Yu-Kym said...

Leo, "Years of experience is required before you attain a competent level of expertise in your field." True but there are exceptions. In some fields, the specific technical skills from many years of experience become obsolete. Some people may spend many years on the job but someone with fewer years of experience may be better than them in every way.

"the more experience you gain, the more humble you become when you realised how little you know." I agree with this. People who are successful in their respective fields care to hear what others have to say and consult others. They know that no person or business operates in singularity.

I believe one of the main purpose of education is to "teach" people how to communicate (to explain and to understand), to ask questions, to seek answers, and to understand that the quest for knowledge and solutions to problems is endless. If so-called highly educated people claim to be superior to others who are not (and we see this happening very often), then education has failed in its purpose.

Justin said...

i do agree that more often than not, paper qualifications are nothing more than paper, and most people fail to fully understand and acquire the theoretical knowledge available during their course of study - in their mad rush to pass the examinations.

a teacher of mine once commented that the education system is nothing more than to teach us to think and process information in an analytical manner, and i still believe that is so.

however, to be fair to all the HR and manpower recruiters out there, paper qualifications is the standard benchmark used to quickly and "accurately" evaluate potential job applicants.

this is definitely not the most ideal way to determine a person's capabilities, but it is the standard that is used everywhere to evaluate someone quickly in the 30 seconds or so that our resumes are read before they are chucked aside or put into the "to consider tray".

such a practice is exasperating to all of us at one point another, but we are in a vicious cycle and we don't make the rules. We can only work around them the best that we can.

David said...


This post has stirred up some strong opinions.

The value of MBA from prestigious universities here depends where on applies for a job. Example, General Motors favors MBA grads from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. However there are MBA some grads from other universities with jobs at GM gained by other qualifications while working for other corporations.

The U.S. government is all over the university spectrum when hiring. Some departments will look first to a specific university others do not.

My wife received her MBA from a private university and that degree created opportunities for her including her current employer.

My bachelors degree was from a private university and that to created opportunities for me.

It appears that government and business have a more complex relationship in SG.

BTW some people with desired degrees have trouble finding and holding jobs, often they mishandle their interview, give inappropriate answers, dress incorrectly, (women to provocative, men to sloppy) and simply blow the interview. Some people who get through the interview simply cannot do the work, will not learn the work or simply cannot work with other people.


Don't ask what the world wants, be what the world needs.

-- Ryan Lister

tim said...

I am a frequent reader of your blog and this is the 1st time I am leaving a comment. I think this is one of the best entry you have written. thumbs up :) I totally agree with what you wrote!

And I am waiting for your book :)

Anonymous said... the laborers working at construction site and garbage cleaners should topped the salary ranking because without them, we would be nothing...right?


Anonymous said...

Nice article. Just a comment to add.

There IS a difference between earning a degree and receiving an education to enrich oneself.

It is very easy to earn a degree(inclusive of Ivy Leagues, the only tough part is in getting in). I have never seen any undergraduate fail to graduate. To just earn a degree, you just need to perform the basics to pass the modules.

But if the purpose of earning that degree is to enrich one-self with knowledge and to better one's work. That kind of merit should never be denied.

Most people only see the degree purely as a paper/stepping stone. I find that opinion too shallow and generally they are unable to back their conclusion with convincing "logic" and alot of biaseness is detected in their explaination.

Having said that, I fully agree with you that work competence has nothing to do with academic qualification or even academic brilliance for that matter. =p


Yu-Kym said...

Justin, I agree that education teaches us to think and process information in an analytical manner. Too bad the exams seem to have some other objective. There is too much emphasis on how much a person managed to memorise and regurgitate.

David, in Singapore, higher education in public universities are considered to be more "recognised" than private ones. Generally, the private ones are for people who didn't manage to get into the public ones. Degrees from overseas, unless they are from very prestigious schools, are also thought to be inferior. People with degrees from overseas face discrimination in the work place sometimes.

Tim, thanks :) It'll be coming up real soon!

Pat, value is a factor but there are other factors involved too. Government and HR "policy" as I mentioned above is one of them. Demand and supply also plays a part.

TP, some courses especially technical ones are not that easy to pass, e.g. civil engineering.

CharlieTT said...

Hi Yu-Kym

Very interesting topic and well discussed by many. However, I would like to share that education does not always equate a sucessful career/life. More importantly it is the attitude - the never say die attitude.
With the never say die attitude and the discipline to lead a good and meaningful life will definitely give one a more successful and meaningful life. Guess you are one of lucky one!

Anonymous said...


Incidentally, I am a Civil Engineer by training. Trust me, it is easy to pass and I have seen struggling peers get through the courses (no doubt they fail many modules along the way). =p

But it is really very difficult to find a really good Civil Engineer around.


David said...


Thank you for the insight offered.

The most prestigious universities in the States are private. Publice Universities vary, and there are ratings done yearly for specific schools within universities for Business, engineering, economics and medicine to name a few. The top spots are dominated by privated universities, although some public universities have individual schools that just behind the best private schools.

Very interesting post.

Several people have correctly commented that there indeed a difference between learning, earning a degree and being able to put that knowledge into practice.

Even engineers and doctors from the very best universities have lowest rankded graduates.


The tragedy of life and of the world is not that men do not know God; the tragedy is that, knowing Him, they still insist on going their own way.

-- William Barclay

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,

I hope we do not lose sight of Yu-Kym's original point, ie paper qualifications are merely an attainment of an academic level; not a definite indication of how competent the holder is in his profession.

She cite her experience in the context of her working environment in Singapore (my assumption).

She further mentioned her disinclination for a system that uses academic qualifications to determine salary or seniority in an organisation.

If my interpretation of her points are correct, I fully agree. In Singapore, too much emphasis is placed on qualifications. In some professions however, eg medical, these qualifications are a necessity - not a mere paper testament.

The Human race is organised along certain parameters. We made progress in improving our lives by applying scientific thinking & solutions.

Education empowered many to contribute to this progress. Inevitably, specialization in specific fields became indispensable for different segments of every society and even nations.

Whether for better or worse, the attainment of knowledge by every person became a sort of societal right.

In some societies like Singapore, the dismay is the abuse of academic qualification by some people to merely enrich themselves eg, an 'apple polisher' obtaining a Master Degree to gain promotion to a higher position when everybody knows he / she is manifestly hopeless.

At the risk of offending fellow citizens, I mentioned Singapore because I witnessed this abuse as being VERY prevalent. Not only in private enterprises but ALSO in Government organisations.

For a nation that prides itself as a centre of meritocracy, this practice is a crying shame. In some organisations, some 'qualified' people are plainly irresponsible.

For those irked by the above paragraph, let me quote examples. Years ago, an gas explosion in a newly completed shopping mall (I think it was Ginza Plaza in West Coast Road) killed some foreign workers. Internal gas pipes of the building were connected "Live" to In-coming public gas mains.

Unaware the gas supply was 'on', a control valve was left in an "open" position. The result was a gas-filled confined chamber in one of the basement floors in the building. The moment any electrical switch was switched 'on', sparks between electrical contacts may have ignite the gas.

It was contemptible, a very junior technician was prosecuted for connecting the PUB Gas Main to the Building's gas pipes. Highly qualified Engineers merely pointed fingers to disclaim liability. Later, it was mandated by same Gas Authority, no connection to Public Main shall be effected until all Building's gas pipes were completely installed and certified safe.

There was another death of a young man when gas leaked into his bedroom throughout the night; because contractors who installed kitchen cabinets; accidentally drilled a gas pipe encased inside a brick wall separating his bedroom from the kitchen.

The highly qualified engineers cited statutory regulations allowing gas pipes to be buried inside walls for aesthetic reasons.

Later, it was mandated Gas pipes NOT be buried inside walls because it was IMPOSSIBLE to ensure gas pipes could be installed in the exact & precise location in accordance to floor plans!

Again, only a lowly qualified cabinet contractor was prosecuted for failing to perform a pipe detection test before drilling the wall.

I hope everyone who has the benefit of specialized training or education, would realized that it is only honorable to use the knowledge in a responsible and meaningful manner.

And certainly not 'tarred' other qualified people with a snobbish or arrogant attitudes.

Thank you.

Regards, Leo

Anonymous said...

Hey Leo, you post simply proves the stupidity and silliness of Singaporeans.

They simply do not conform to world standard practice.

Everywhere in the world, in house gas pipes are exposed for safety reasons.

And Sillyporeans love to connect gas pipes live. Uniquely Sillypore!

Anonymous said...

I dont think my 15 to 16yrs of passing examinations has helped me to any significant extent what I have achieved today.

But what I am today as a person, I believe my thought processes that govern my behaviour, my attitudes and general conduct my life as such have been enhanced, further developed during the years of my education. Education has helped but in some not too critical ways.

Even without the years of "education" in institutions of learning with some great teachers, I would have been more or less the same man, albeit less successful and complete as an upright human being. My basic logical train of thought, my intrinsic behaviour, my IQ level, my street-smartness etc are all already inherent in my genetic make up. These have already point me towards a general direction and expectation in life. Whether I achieve these or not depends on the strength of my environment that exerts its influences upon me.
Nature 1st. Nurture influences!

Leo, I believe I'm fixed and yet I'm not fixed! Everything is constantly changing every second that my destiny at any moment in time changes with the happenings and the developments all round me.

curious cat

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Singapore took 45 years to build a safe & clean city-state.

How long did your not-stupid & not-silly politicians take?

Or were they busy lining their pockets while your wonderful parents imitated the lifestyles of your porn stars & bred such a profane character in you?

Enjoy the meal.

Anonymous said...

People say it took 45 years to make SG safe. The truth is, it probably will take another million years!.

Just look at my poor HDB flat. It has security bars all over the windows including the front door and balcony and it is 10 floors up. There must be many skilled spidermen living here. The void deck power breakers have been broken and lights removed to make breakin and enter easier. How safe do you feel. Perhaps as safe as a prison.

How clean is SG. Rats caused food poisoning in Newton Food Court. I won't even dare to eat in ANY food court any more!

Anonymous said...

In my last swim in the HDB pool, we found human droppings there.

Won't dare to swim there any more!