Even as Singapore continues to expand its education options for students, it is important to have a vibrant economy so that there will be new and "interesting" jobs for young people to choose from.

A strong economy also means that the Government can invest a lot more resources in the education system, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"The reason why over the last 20 years we have been able to expand polytechnics... university places, is because... our economy is growing," he told some 300 students who attended the annual Polytechnic Forum held at Downtown East yesterday.

"If you have a growing economy, we can create new jobs, interesting jobs, well-paid jobsjobs that give you a future," he said.

Mr Heng was responding to Temasek Polytechnic accounting and finance student Tan Jun Ming, 19, who asked about the perception that polytechnic students are generally viewed as less capable than university graduates.

The minister said the education system has become more open over the years, with more pathways to cater to students of different strengths. But these changes were possible because of a strong economy.

Said Mr Heng: "So I would say that you should not focus on just what the education system can do, but you should also focus on what the economy can create."

The forum serves as a platform for students to gain a deeper understanding of national issues. This year's theme was The Power of Youth in Community Action.

At the forum, students also quizzed Mr Heng on a range of issues, from giving more emphasis to moral education, to introducing more flexibility in the university admission criteria for polytechnic graduates.

Currently, about 43 per cent of each Primary 1 cohort go on to attend a polytechnic and the figure is expected to go up to 45 per cent by 2015. More polytechnic graduates are also going on to pursue a university degree.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Tan Yao Kun, 18, asked if local universities could consider factors like community service for those who fail to meet minimum grades.

Mr Heng noted that universities are already expanding their admission criteria. But at the same time, it is important to keep the "rigour and competitive standing of all our programmes".

Another student asked if there will be a sixth polytechnic here. The minister noted that five is currently sufficient to meet demand, and the focus is to continue to improve the polytechnics.

Students said that the forum has been beneficial. Mr Tan, the Nanyang Polytechnic student, said: "The forum is definitely enriching as it allows us to come together and discuss social issues."