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A Workforce Built on Degree Mill Certs is OK, So Long as You’re Not Caught?

It’s barely 9 days into his new job as Manpower Minister, yet it appears that Mr Lim Swee Say has just shot himself in the foot with his statement regarding the criteria for employment pass holders.

At a time when the internet is on fire with many Singaporeans angry that foreigners and locals with degree mill certificates are snagging jobs ahead of them, Mr Lim comes out to essentially say,

“It’s ok if you have a degree mill cert. Employers have been told not to consider it. They will consider your experience, and salary requirements. We won’t police employers. Rather the onus is on them to scrutinise your application.”

Already, Singaporeans’ top complaint at the workplace is a perceived bias from employers in favour of foreigners.

And at a time when PMET has risen significantly, Singaporeans are looking for some assurance from our Manpower chief that their rice bowls will be taken care of.

(1) Unfair Advantage?

Mr Lim skirts the issue that degree mill certificates could give employees an unfair advantage when applying for jobs.

Given the number of educational institutions across the world, employers will need to be very alert to certificates which are from bogus institutions.

Add that consideration to the sheer number of job applicants vying for jobs in a tight labour market such as Singapore’s.

Mr Lim could have sent out a strong message that the use of degree mill certificates will not be tolerated, but he didn’t.

Instead, he chose to focus on the difference between bona fide fake degrees, and degree mill certs, saying that those who fake their certs will face stern punishment, while those who buy their certs can get away with it.

(2) Dishonesty is Fine?

The use of both fake degrees and degree mill certs are acts of dishonesty.

They’re essentially used to persuade employers that a job applicant is more skilled than he truly is.

The government touts Singapore as a meritocratic society, hence it should come down hard on those who lie about their skills.

If the top can’t set a good example, does it expect everyone below to follow?

(3) Floodgates Opened for Degree Sales?

It’s not an issue about foreigners or Singaporeans.

Rather, it’s about whether the most deserving applicant gets the job, and whether bad apples are weeded out.

Already, Singaporeans are clamouring and fighting tooth and nail to get better educational qualifications, even spending extra years to get their Masters degrees (some kiasu buggers even go for a Doctorate just to be safe).

If degree mill certificates can give Singaporeans a leg up, without any fear of punishment if they’re caught, then what’s stopping us from spending a couple of thousand extra to get a few more certificates?

Remember, one year in a local university can cost about S$7000 with government subsidy.

A degree mill cert can be bought for just a few hundred bucks, and it takes a couple of weeks to obtain.

(5) The Rot Starts from the Public Service?

There’s a niggling suspicion that this soft stance is a way of easing the flak on the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, which has been criticised for retaining applications consultant Nisha Padmanabhan despite finding out that her MBA was bought from a degree mill.

We can’t ascertain that.

But, if the public service can’t take a stand to wee out dishonesty in its ranks, how does it expect the private sector to follow suit?

This is the IDA’s statement:

“Hi everyone,

Thank you for your patience in awaiting the outcome of our investigation into the case concerning Nisha Padmanabhan.

We have conducted a thorough investigation into the matter, taking into account the various concerns raised. We have assessed the facts and interviewed Nisha Padmanabhan, and are satisfied that she did not deceive or mislead IDA by citing the MBA in her CV when she applied to IDA for a job.

Nisha had enrolled for an MBA distance learning programme with Southern Pacific University in 2005 when she was residing in Malaysia. She had genuinely believed her MBA programme to be bona fide, and she had put in effort to obtain the qualification. In retrospect, Nisha acknowledges that she should have been more discerning in assessing the quality of the university which she had selected to pursue her distance learning programme.

While IDA did not take Nisha’s MBA into account when hiring her, as the job only required a Bachelor degree-holder, we did look at her relevant skillsets and past work experience as she was a mid-career hire.”

(6) Salaries a Factor?

Mr Lim says that employers will consider experience and salary when hiring degree mill certificate holders.

So if all looks good on paper, what’s stopping employers from hiring degree mill certificate holders who are cheaper, ahead of our boys?

Our boys have to serve National Service for 2 years – that’s 2 years for anyone else to gain work experience in small firms to pad their resumes.

Our boys are competing in a system which has handicapped them.

Is this fair?

Again, no punishment, so if the job application work out, great!

If not, let’s just try our luck at the next would-be sucker.

In Sum

This was a chance for Mr Lim to stamp his authority as Manpower Minister, and show that he wants to push Singapore’s labour force forward as a clean and truly meritocratic one.

A labour force which exemplifies that much-vaunted line that “Singapore’s greatest strength is its people.”

Instead, what we’ve got is a weak statement which doesn’t address the fears of the Singaporean public.

What I fear is over time, Singaporeans might truly buy in to the mentality that “if everyone is doing it, then I also have to do it. Since kena caught nevermind, then just get for insurance sake lah.”

If the problem isn’t nipped now, starting from the public service, it’ll be disastrous years down the road if it festers and spawns out of control.

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