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askST: Can specialist degrees become obsolete?


SINGAPORE — In the second in a five-week askST series on university education, The Straits Times tackles questions about honors degrees.

Q: I want to take a specialized course in cybersecurity or software engineering, but I’m afraid of an over-specialization. What happens when what I learn in the course becomes outdated?

A: I understand your concern about “over-specialization” in one area. After all, people experience rapid change and disruption. And the pace will only quicken, thanks to advances in areas such as computing, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Several employment trends reports have warned that in many industries the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and they say the pace of change is set to accelerate further. .

People cannot regard diplomas as permanent marks of professional competence. Such thinking creates a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work – and the knowledge and skills required – are static.

Fortunately, universities around the world, including institutions in Singapore, have moved away from this way of thinking and changed their curricula and the way they prepare their students to ensure that they are able to adapt to the changes.

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) offers many specialized degrees, including the ones you are interested in – cybersecurity and software engineering.

These degrees are popular, in part because of the good job prospects they offer. With cybersecurity risks becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is an acute shortage of cybersecurity specialists who can be hired to help fend off these threats.

Likewise, software engineers are increasingly in demand as every aspect of people’s lives is impacted by technology – at home, at school, and at work.

SIT graduates in information security in 2020 earned a median monthly salary of $4,300, up from $4,100 the previous year, while graduates in ICT (software engineering) earned a median salary of $4,000.

Their employers were a good mix of local small and medium-sized businesses, government agencies, and multinational corporations such as GovTech Singapore, Accenture, Temus, and the Defense Science and Technology Agency.

So how does SIT do it? University officials say their graduates are able to get started in part because the institution emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning.

First, the university maintains close contact with industry leaders in the relevant sector of each degree course and involves them in curriculum development. This allows faculty to quickly discover emerging industry trends and skills gaps and fine-tune courses.

In computer science, for example, some courses are co-designed and co-directed by SIT professors and industrial partners from companies such as Group-IB and Dell Technologies.

Cybersecurity students benefited from guest lectures provided by industry partners and attended classes where they played the role of hackers attacking SIT’s network or the tech team defending the system.