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Old 04-08-2009, 07:17 PM   #1
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Default WHAT'S with university-bound young Singaporeans and their penchant for business degree courses?

Economics of choice
Sandra Davie
Sat, May 17, 2008
The Straits Times

WHAT'S with university-bound young Singaporeans and their penchant for business degree courses?

For the past three years, business and business-related courses such as accountancy and economics have consistently been the top picks of A-level and polytechnic students heading to university.

Even science-stream students, who are more suited for engineering or computing, sought berths in the business faculty. This resulted in average scorers (with no options but business) being squeezed out of a place.

This year, despite the caution sounded by the universities, the headlong rush into business has persisted. Business and accountancy were again among the top choices at all three universities - National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU). Another hot course was NTU's double degree in engineering and economics.

This does not make sense, given the recent deep losses and job cuts in the financial services sector.

I decided to seek some answers from the young university hopefuls earlier this week at a tea session organised by one of the universities.

Youngster No. 1, a junior college student wired to his iPod and clutching his shiny, new MacBook Air, reasoned: 'I can get into biological sciences or chemical engineering. But I want to study business because I can go and work in the finance industry or start a business and make some serious money.'

Youngster No. 2, a polytechnic graduate who stands a slim chance of being admitted to a business degree course but is trying anyway, proffered: 'Business just seems more fun. You can go work for a bank and they pay more than other companies. With the cost of living spiralling up, I am just being pragmatic.'

Youngster No. 3, another junior college student who has already been offered a place in NUS' and NTU's business faculties, clad in Sass & Bide jeans and clutching a Coach bag, was forthright: 'I figured I would need a minimum of $7,000 a month to survive. The only places that will pay that kind of money to a fresh grad are the banks.'

So there you have it. Business degree = working in a bank. The financial services sector = big money = MacBook Air, Sass & Bide jeans and Coach bag.

The student in designer jeans said she decided to study business after she read an article in The Straits Times about a Singapore Management University student getting a $100,000-a-year job in an investment bank upon graduation.

The fact that the same article pointed out that only a handful of the best students land such high-paying jobs failed to register with her.

Who are the students taking up places in the other faculties? I met two of them who were hanging out with their friends at the National University of Singapore. One had applied for the arts and social sciences as her top choice - because she wants to study sociology and social work. The other wants to take up English language and literature and become a teacher.

The one gunning for sociology and social work said her friends and parents think she is 'plain stupid' as it will mean hard work and little pay. Two years ago, media reports said social workers start with monthly salaries averaging $2,000 - much lower than the $3,000 that fresh graduates in other fields command.

The Singapore Association of Social Workers estimates that the average social worker's monthly pay hovers at $2,500 to $3,000 after five years.

At her parents' insistence, the aspiring social worker put down business and accountancy as her third and fourth choices respectively. 'There is so much suffering. I just want to do my bit and help people,' explained the earnest 20-year-old.

But sadly, with her single B and string of Cs, it will be a stretch to land a place in the arts and social sciences faculty, with its new-found popularity with those wanting to study economics, which is the next best thing for those who cannot get into business.

The other A-level holder aiming to study English has had to vigorously defend her choice. She has a passion for 18th-century novels and working with disadvantaged children. She tells her junior college friends 'money can't buy everything' but they mostly sneer at her.

The girl in designer jeans talks about going on to a brand-name MBA - Harvard Business School, no less - after completing her first degree, so she can 'be a top earner in no time'.

Forget about education for education's sake. For her, education is about transforming herself into an effective economic unit.

Naturally, I tried to recall what my own considerations were when I picked a university course. I could have taken up law at NUS but chose to go into arts and social sciences so that I could indulge in reading more of the great literary works I enjoyed.

My calculations did not disappoint. Every few weeks, I discovered the thrilling works of yet another new poet, novelist or dramatist and, like many of my peers, fell in love with the brilliant young professor teaching it.

I remember being outraged by a don's thesis that Lewis Carroll's Alice books were decadent adult literature rather than children's literature.

I also took up philosophy and remember being floored by a question a tutor posed: 'Why is an orange an orange?' I remember my aesthetics professor bringing along a piece of driftwood nicely framed and asking us to explain why it should not be considered high art.

My university education was, as I hoped, exciting and intoxicating. I never stopped to think about how it could help me earn a living or score a high-paying job.

In the end, it did not make me a wealthy person but it greatly enriched my life.

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Old 04-13-2009, 03:05 PM   #2
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April 12, 2009
With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war Communist challenge. Yes, the jobs beckoned and the pay was good. But those careers, in their day, had other perks: respect and self-esteem.

Big shifts in the flow of talent can ripple through the nation and the economy for decades with lasting effect. The engineers of the Depression built everything from inter-city roads to the Hoover Dam, while the Sputnik-inspired scientists would go on, often with research funding from the Pentagon, to create the building-block innovations behind modern computing and the Internet.

Today, the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years. The contours of the shift are still in flux, in part because there is so much uncertainty about the shape of the economic landscape and the job market ahead.

But choosing a career is a guess about the future in which economics is only part of the calculation. Prestige, peer expectations and the climate of public opinion also matter. And early indications suggest new career directions that are tethered less to the dream of an immediate six-figure paycheck on Wall Street than to the demands of a new public agenda to solve the nation’s problems.

The deep recession has clearly battered industries — and professions — whose economics were at risk before the downturn. Law firms are laying off lawyers as never before and questioning the industry’s traditional unit of payment, the billable hour. Journalism is reeling from the falloff in advertising and the inability of newspapers and magazines to make a living on the Web.

Still, the industry whose troubles are having the greatest impact on the rethinking of careers, especially at the nation’s elite universities, is the one at the center of the country’s economic downturn — finance. For years, the hefty paychecks and social status on Wall Street proved irresistible to many of America’s brightest young people, but the jobs, money and social respect there are much diminished today.

“In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

What will the new map of talent flow look like? It’s early, but based on graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, a new pattern of occupational choice seems to be emerging. Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners, while fewer shiny, young minds are embarking on careers in finance and business consulting.

For the highest-paid business fields, the outlook is for a tempering correction instead of an all-out exodus. At Harvard, for example, about 40 percent of undergraduates in recent years went into the most lucrative corporate arenas like finance and consulting, based on surveys at the school year’s end. “That certainly won’t be the case this year,” observed Lawrence Katz, a professor and labor economist who has studied undergraduate career choices at Harvard going back to the 1960s. “We’re seeing students who would have been part of the Ivy League pipeline to Wall Street in the past considering very different career paths.”

Kedamai Fisseha, a 21-year-old senior, is one of them. An economics major, Mr. Fisseha says he always assumed he would go into finance, and his summer internship last year was at the investment bank Morgan Stanley. Yet after Wall Street’s meltdown, job prospects there have withered. Instead, he is interviewing with Teach for America, a nonprofit group that recruits college graduates to teach in hard-to-staff schools for two-year stints. (After that, only one-third stay in the classrooms, though two-thirds remain in education.)

Mr. Fisseha regards the turn of events as an opportunity to broaden his horizons. “It’s been liberating, and lucky for me,” he said. “But your situation does dictate your preferences.”

Graduate schools of government and public policy are seeing a surge of applications. In a survey of its members released last week, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration found that 82 percent reported an increase in applications this year, and many saw the largest percentage jumps in several years, or ever. The most-cited reason was the expectation by students that government will be hiring.

Still, the appeal of public sector careers extends beyond job openings, say school officials. The laissez-faire presumption that government is not the solution but the problem, dating back to the Reagan era, has been cast aside, they say.

The government’s need to step in with financial bailouts and recovery programs to steady the economy is seen as the immediate proof, they say, but not the only one. The environment, energy and health care also pose huge, complex challenges. “Young people today understand that government has a powerful role to play in solving these problems,” said Sandra Archibald, dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, where applications this year are up 26 percent.

Government school officials also point to an Obama effect: his election as an endorsement of government activism.

The economy, other long-range policy issues and the new administration, according to David Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, add up to a “benevolent perfect storm,” which could lure talented people to public service in a way not seen in decades.

Yet even before the economic crisis, Mr. Ellwood said, there were signs of a drift among young people toward trying to work on public problems, influenced by everything from the 9/11 attacks to climate change.

Matthew McKnight attended Phillips Exeter Academy and was a freshman at Dartmouth College during the 9/11 attacks. The event and its aftermath, he recalled, left him with a conviction that he should serve his country “because of the opportunities I’d been given.” After graduating from college, Mr. McKnight joined the Marines. His four years in the military included a stint at the State Department in a counterterrorism unit, and he recently returned from 13 months in the field in Iraq.

This fall, Mr. McKnight, 25, is headed to the Kennedy School for a joint-degree program with the Harvard Business School. He may work in the private sector for a couple of years at some point, he said, but he plans to make his career in government service. Mr. McKnight’s particular experience, to be sure, is unusual. But, he said, “There is a big crop of people, like me, who grew up in a different time when public policy and public issues have been at the center of things.”

At leading business schools, too, a shift in career patterns is evident. Last year, 64 percent of the graduating class from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia went into finance or consulting. Graduation is still a couple of months away, but that percentage will be well down this year, especially in finance, said Jack Oakes, director of the career development center. Jobs in investment banking, for example, are running at less than half the level of last year, while more students are showing an interest in government jobs.

Patricia Foglesong, a second-year student at Darden, turned down a job offer from a major consulting firm. Instead, she is considering two government jobs, one with the Secret Service and another with the Park Service.

“Am I going to be a federal employee for the next 30 years? Probably not,” Ms. Foglesong said. “But public-private partnerships are going to be increasingly important in almost any field. And the timing is right to do this.”

The sciences could well rise in the new pecking order of career status. The Obama administration wants to double federal spending in basic research over 10 years and triple the number of graduate fellowships in science.

There are already signs of a renewed interest among students in science and technology. For the first time in six years, enrollment in computer science programs in the United States increased last year, according to a university survey last month. At Stanford University, the number of students taking the introductory computer science course increased 20 percent this year, said Eric Roberts, a professor of computer science.

“What we need to do is to broadly educate as many people as possible in science, so the most talented people find their way into the field,” Mr. Roberts said. “That’s what happened in the Sputnik era.”

Don Chamberlin, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Santa Cruz, was a member of the “Sputnik generation,” when American schoolchildren were encouraged to pursue careers in science, after the launch of a tiny satellite in 1957 appeared to give the Soviets a lead in missile technology used in nuclear strikes. As a teenager, he endangered his family garage in California with his rocket kits and later went into the fledgling field of computer science. He was a leading scientist in a team of IBM researchers that created the SQL database, an unseen technology that nonetheless animates every credit card purchase and A.T.M. banking transaction.

In the early 1960s ....
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Old 04-24-2009, 08:21 PM   #3
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ST: Business degrees lose their attraction
Varsity applicants opt for science and arts as they scan the job scene down the road
By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer

The eye-popping six-figure salaries that banks were throwing at freshly minted graduates in recent years made business faculties the first choice for many university applicants.

Never mind if the applicants were clearly more suited for engineering or the sciences, or even medicine or law.

But the recession has provided a reality check this year.

All those stories of final-year students failing to land a job, let alone a high-paying one in a bank, have had a sobering effect. Applicants are now rethinking their choices.

There is a shift away from business to courses such as arts and social sciences, which offer surer job prospects in teaching and the civil service.

Applications to the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) surged this year to 61,560, up 5 per cent from 58,606 last year.

Of the total, 37,690 applications were from A-level students and 23,870 from polytechnic graduates. Most applied for two, if not all three, universities.

In all, 15,210 places will be given out this year to local students, up from 14,200 last year.

The Education Ministry did not give a breakdown on course preferences this year but said fewer applicants listed business as their first choice.

NUS, NTU and SMU have all seen a dip of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent for business, while more have applied to take up arts and social sciences, economics, teaching, computing and some engineering degrees.

NUS vice-provost (education) Tan Thiam Soon, who oversees admissions, said school leavers had flocked to the business faculty in recent years, attracted by the high salaries paid by banks.

'Even students who would excel as engineers or scientists wanted to do business,' he said.

'But now, with the finance sector cutting back on jobs, they are more realistic. They are going where they think the jobs are going to be in four years' time, when they graduate. Teaching seems to be one of those sectors. The Government has said it will take the opportunity to hire more teachers and the salaries for teachers look pretty good these days.'

The science and the arts and social sciences faculties of NUS have among the biggest intakes for freshmen, with well over 1,000 students a year.

Professor Lalit Goel, who heads admissions at NTU, said the upbeat job prospects for teachers also explain the rise of 50 per cent to 60 per cent in applications for teaching degree courses at the National Institute of Education, which is a part of NTU.

NUS and NTU also report an increase in applicants for some engineering courses this year - in civil, materials, computer and environmental engineering.

NUS' Prof Tan, a civil engineer by training, said the spike is related to the courses' better job prospects: 'Students have realised that there will always be a need for civil engineers in a built-up city like Singapore, because there is constant regeneration.'

Issues such as climate change have also made environmental engineering 'sexy' again.

NTU's Prof Goel said: 'Students see opportunities in exciting new areas such as waste recycling, solar energy, water technology and electric cars.'

University-bound students told The Sunday Times that they are going where they think jobs will be in the coming years.

A-level holder Dennis Lee, 21, said he was initially set on business but applied for arts and social sciences instead after hearing how his business graduate cousin had difficulty landing a job.

'It's quite scary how my cousin went for half a dozen job interviews and has yet to land anything. So I told myself I have to be realistic,' he said.

'The banks are laying off people, but the Government is hiring. With a BA, I can go into the civil service or teaching, which I don't mind because I like dealing with young people.'

The Education Ministry announced last year that it was going to take advantage of the downturn by embarking on a hiring spree, aiming to sign up about 7,500 people this year. It plans to fill 3,500 teaching and teaching support staff positions, and another 4,000 posts at tertiary institutions and kindergartens.

Polytechnic graduate Karen Oei, 21, believes that it is better to take up general degrees rather than go into specific disciplines. She has applied for a place in the science faculty at NUS.

'Now you can expect to have to change jobs several times in a lifetime. General degrees give you wider options. With majors in maths and chemistry, I can join the manufacturing industry, join the banks, insurance companies or become a maths teacher.'

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Old 03-06-2011, 12:27 PM   #4
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Revive this thread for people considering business this year.
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Old 03-06-2011, 10:19 PM   #5
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this is damn true. all the best for those choosing biz!
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Old 03-16-2012, 10:17 AM   #6
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At Princeton, a group affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement interrupted sessions by JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, urging their fellow students to rebel against what it said was “the campus culture that whitewashes the crooked dealings of Wall Street as a prestigious career path.”...

Chris Wiggins, an associate professor of applied math at Columbia University who sat on the panel, said he was seeing students shy away from Wall Street and veer toward industries where they could work and profit without bringing their morality under the microscope. “The claim of investment banking that it serves a social purpose by ‘lubricating capitalism’ has eroded,” Professor Wiggins said. “It’s simply very difficult for young people to believe that they’re serving any social purpose now.”

...Ben Pruden, a second-year student at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin... “I don’t want to be working in an industry that effectively leeches off other industries.”
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Old 03-18-2012, 12:12 AM   #7
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The writer (Sandra Davie) made her choice.

Now she is a 'poorly paid' journalist when she could have been a 'highly paid' lawyer.
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Old 03-18-2012, 12:13 AM   #8
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You don't have to join banks and financial sector after you graduate with a business degree.
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Old 05-02-2015, 08:25 PM   #9
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double degree in chem eng and econs or pharmacy?
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