Saturday, 12 April 2014

More to varsity than getting a degree: Indranee

Ultimate purpose is betterment of person, society, mankind, she says
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2014

GOING to university is about more than just getting qualifications; it should also be about preparing oneself for life and bettering society, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah yesterday.

She was speaking at the biennial Union Forum organised by the National University of Singapore Students' Union, on "the idea of the university".

Students should enrol in university to gain broader knowledge than just the degrees they earn, and "emerge with an enlarged worldview" having learnt ideas with power to have impact on lives, she said.

"The attainment of the degree is not an end in itself. The degree doesn't make you a better person... a good person," she added.

"The ultimate purpose of the university is really for the betterment of the person, society and mankind."

Later, in a panel discussion with NUS provost Tan Eng Chye and Straits Times Editor at Large Han Fook Kwang, Ms Indranee said she hoped Singapore universities would one day become "powerhouses" in generating ideas.

Singapore, she said, tends to "look to other countries for ideas", rather than creating its own. "What I would like is for people to look at a Singapore university and say: 'Hey! That idea came from a (local) university," she said.

But she added that universities must provide knowledge needed for students' future careers. "There has to be some kind of purpose to it at the end of the day but it should not be only that."

Prof Tan said students today were too focused on grades. Singapore society, being an "outcome-oriented" one, played a part in this, he said, but he hoped students would one day "learn for the sake of learning".

He noted how the first-choice courses for NUS applicants are consistently medicine, law and business, perhaps because of higher salaries in those fields.

"For the benefit of Singapore... it's important to have a good spread of talents across the various disciplines," he said.

Mr Han urged university faculty and students in Singapore to make their voices heard more, for example in the media, in discussions about issues facing Singapore. "If not, then by default, other people dominate the discussion... If you don't add your voice to it, then I think society will be poorer for it."

Universities need to offer ideas with ‘great impact’
Varsities should aim to become powerhouses for positive transformational change and idea generation, says Indranee
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 10 Apr 2014

Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah yesterday threw down the gauntlet to Singapore universities to come up with global ideas that have great impact, so the Republic need not always look to other countries.

Noting that universities are “preoccupied” with equipping graduates with the skills they need for jobs they want, she said her wish is for Singapore universities to become “powerhouses for positive transformational change and idea generation”.

“I have the sense that we look to other countries for ideas and thoughts, perhaps rather more than we concentrate on developing our own,” she said.

“It’s not to say our universities don’t do that, but I think that there is a lot more scope (to do more).”

Ms Indranee was responding to a question on her one wish for an ideal university during a forum organised by the National University of Singapore Students’ Union (NUSSU) that was attended by about 180 people, including undergraduates, academics and junior college students.

Held at NUS University Town, two other panellists — NUS Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost Tan Eng Chye and The Straits Times Editor-at-Large Han Fook Kwang — joined Ms Indranee in a discussion on the goals of a modern Singapore university against factors such as a maturing post-materialist society, game-changing technology and major shifts in the global higher education landscape.

Throughout the dialogue, the common refrain among the panellists was that a university education should not only be all about grades.

Pointing out that applicants’ top three choices of faculties are always medicine, then law, followed by business, Prof Tan said he hoped more students will follow their passion, such that talent will be spread more equitably across the various disciplines and benefit the country in the long run.

“Students are usually led to their choices, maybe, through how much they can make after that, or what sort of status they can enjoy after that, not so much by the innate interest in that particular subject,” he noted.

In a similar vein, Mr Han said he hopes for a university that is not so centred on examinations and results, but where students “enjoy their life” and “cultivate life-long habits of wanting to learn new things and being curious about the world”.

Other ideals discussed include having an environment where students are not afraid of failing, being a centre of discourse and being capable of nurturing imagination and civic-mindedness in students.

During the forum, Prof Tan also refuted a participant’s comment that the only faculty the Public Service Commission (PSC) and A*Star send their scholars to within NUS is the School of Medicine.

“PSC has always, and this is definitely (true) in recent years, given the high stature of NUS, encouraged PSC scholars to join NUS,” he said, noting that PSC scholarship interviewees who want to attend other universities are asked why they do not think NUS is a better school. “So they have in recent times redirected people to NUS, likewise for A*Star.”

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