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“Do I really need a degree?”

This question often arises for Singaporean young creatives nearing graduation from polytechnics, LASALLE, or NAFA. Having experienced both diploma and degree programs, my perspective may be helpful to some, maybe you? This blog post won’t compare the nature of Poly vs Uni education per se. Rather, I’ll focus on the intangibles and “paper value” of having an animation diploma vs. a degree.

Parent Expectations: Diploma vs. Degree

Asian parents are stereotyped as having expectations of their children to be doctors, and lawyers, and attain a degree or masters for bragging rights. Stereotypes aside, Singaporean parents do have rightful concerns, because it’s true that starting salaries in the creative field are statistically lower than in other industries. So don’t deny or omit this information when communicating with your parents. (That’s sneaky!) I recommend that you acknowledge their concerns and do your research. Show them success stories and a strategy to succeed, easing their worries. Share with them your industry heroes, those who inspire you, and started their careers with a diploma and steadily progress, gaining world recognition through dedication and upskilling.

That was exactly what I did back in 2005, going to a polytechnic had a social stigma of failure to attain good enough grades for junior college (the straightforward path to university). But my O’level grades were excellent and I knew exactly what I wanted. So, I assured my parents I’d work my ass off to get both the diploma and the degree—and I delivered. Thankfully, the stigma isn’t as strong nowadays, but more conventional parents tend to have stronger opinions, so please be patient with them. 🙂

Employability in Private and Public Sectors

The private sector prioritizes portfolios over qualifications. For instance, Masonry Studios only hires based on portfolio and interpersonal skills; we’ve never considered academic grades.

So, why do grades matter?

Well, the public sector favours higher qualifications due to the need for systematic metrics. Large organizations rely on certifications due to the difficulty of assessing portfolios, emphasizing the importance of qualifications. Despite these differences, both sectors value competence and adaptability.

The Harsh Realities

In the private sector, animators and designers can potentially climb the career ladder indefinitely, with no strict upper limit on progression. As long as they can communicate and execute design plans, and can negotiate a fair return for the contribution. However, in the public sector, career advancement follows a systematic, almost guaranteed path, but your progression is capped based on your qualifications. While private sector opportunities offer unlimited growth potential based on performance and merit, public sector roles may provide stability and predictability in advancement but come with limitations tied to educational credentials. This underscores the importance of weighing personal career priorities and long-term aspirations when deciding between sectors.

Working Overseas

A degree is more helpful than a diploma in obtaining work visas. Countries and governments use education levels as assessment metrics. Overseas HR departments assist with visa requests, making the process smoother with a degree, highlighting its practical benefits beyond national borders. Furthermore, a degree demonstrates commitment and competence to potential employers abroad.

Of course, there are exceptions. My buddy from NYP didn’t pursue a degree and still had a great time as a feature film VFX animator in Canada for the past decade. All I’m getting at here is that a degree does make it administratively easier.

Salary Negotiation

Diploma holders typically earn less than degree holders, especially in the public sector. However, in the private sector, merit dictates salary (yay!), subject to negotiation skills, underscoring the importance of advocating for oneself in the job market. Knowing your value as a creative, and developing negotiation skills can significantly impact earning potential, regardless of educational background.

Developing negotiation skills can significantly impact earning potential, regardless of educational background.

Conclusion: Animation Diploma vs. Degree

Diploma Vs Degree

While a degree may not be necessary for CGI/VFX careers in Singapore, its paper value and convenience shouldn’t be dismissed, acknowledging its role in facilitating career opportunities and professional advancement. Each path offers unique advantages, and understanding these nuances can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their education and career paths.

If you wish to read more about the nature of education you get from a local polytechnic versus a university programme, please read The poly vs uni debate.

Ronald Fong

Author Ronald Fong

A CGI animation director and educator who blends storytelling prowess with visual finesse, shaping his expertise in the creative realm. From technically-driven 3D animator to founder of Masonry Studios, he navigates challenges, shares insights, and empowers the next generation of creatives through tutorials, talks, and business wisdom.

More posts by Ronald Fong

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