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Universities need to offer ideas with ‘great impact’

National University of Singapore

National University of Singapore

Varsities should aim to become powerhouses for positive transformational change and idea generation, says Indranee

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”.

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