Will we ever have engineers?

As noted by Vivian, the first of three key ingredients before anything starts is to have engineers, engineers who are valued and who want to change the world by their work and their ideas.

As an engineer myself I of course agree with that.  As we laud engineers and the possibilities of what that means, I fear that we are being set up for failure. We as in Singapore, that is. We not skilling up enough members of the next generation to become engineers to the extent that we need.

Back when I completed my “A” levels (1977), electrical engineering was the *hottest* program to get into, regardless of university.  Fast forward to today, 2013, getting into E school has dipped to an all time low, especially, electrical engineering (and I will lump computer, communications and electronics into that).

The competition is now for entry into business school and, dare I say, the “softer” programs.  There, I’ve said it.  We are not seeing strong competition for entry into the hard sciences nor math nor engineering. What happened?

Where and when will we be able to reverse this spiral into mediocrity?

I was attending the Singapore Polytechnic open house yesterday. My older son is keen on the Poly and electrical engineering at that. It warms my heart that he want to take that program and it was all his personal choice.  I do not demand our sons to follow the paths of their parents, but if they do, it is a bonus.

But what bothers me is that the Poly lists electrical engineering as having the least competitive entry requirements – 22 points (the O level scores needed from the English, 2 relevant subjects and 2 best subjects) and Business Administration needing 12. Really? 12 vs 22?

See this document:


Note that the most sought after engineering program is Aeronautical Engineering (12 points) and the least is Electrical and Electronic Engineering (22 points) while Biomedical Science is the most sought after at 8 points. Perhaps the 8 points and the 22 points are outliers but it is still very worrisome.


  1. In my opinion, the way the points are decided for courses is based on demand & supply which is determined by “what’s hot now”. It’s also skewed towards what the govt will think is useful in coming years. The result is that students/parents ( who are hugely affected by peer pressures) will end up choosing a course, the child wasn’t passionate about in the first place based on “the best available based on the marks you got” It will take someone who thinks differently to go against peer pressure & govt manipulation to do the course he actually likes, irrespective of who’s in his class ( ie. people with low marks which we religiously look down on) & head out into a job that he will excel in.

    I think your son should do electrical engineering because he likes it. really excel and get good grades, then go to a good university abroad which is highly ranked in this field, get a good degree there with specialisations etc. When he comes back, there will be plenty of employeers queueing to hire him. This is exactly the way NRIs are playing it here & have become very successful in making the flawed system work for them. We have, for too long , just played along, given up our passions & as adults, are basically unbacked & on our own. The kids of today are smarter than that. Parents should encourage them in this direction.

    • Thanks, Vidhya for your comments. My wife and I both agreed when our boys were born that they should chose their own paths in life and not be constrained by the trends of the day. All we can do is to guide and provide advise. The rest is up to them.

      As it stands now, Ajay will be enrolling into Singapore Poly to do electrical engineering. That’ll open up very wide vistas and opportunties for him to explore. In many ways, I am happy not because the Poly is my alma mater, but as an EE myself, I would want to see more EEs among Singaporeans.

      • Wonderful! Great to hear that he’s proceeding with electrical engineering at the poly. I’m sure he’ll do really well with your guidance & support. :):)

  2. Excellent. It’s good to see that interest is still strong.
    I find that ultimately society will see value in engineering hopefully.

    At least for the US. Bankers were hot commodity before the financial crisis. Hard sciences graduates were all sucked in.

    But now the winds have changed and the bankers are not so keen to shout to the world their occupation.

    Hard sciences are starting to be recognized in silicon valley which is great. Hopefully it will happen over here too.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. It is a global phenomena, but I think the maker movement is pointing out to more people that tinkering and making are critical and rewarding in it’s own rigth. We need makers. Makers make things to sell.

Leave a Reply