Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Boosting the prestige of local universities

Local universities are gaining prestige. I must say that the ST articles on 4th & 5th July made me quite happy indeed. Minister Mentor Lee suggested that more top students should be sent to the local universities for their studies, and this, to me, is truly a step in the right direction!

Such a move will boost the prestige of local universities and will thus help in Singapore's quest to become a higher education hub of Asia. In fact, I would propose one additional strategy that will take Singapore's universities to the next level, which is the following...

The top scholars should not only pursue their undergraduate studies in Singapore, but also their postgraduate studies here, especially doctoral studies. This is because two important criteria for judging the international excellence of a university are firstly, the size, the student composition (e.g. whether there are many from other countries), and the quality of students in the graduate programmes, and secondly, whether the PhD graduates can get hired at reputable universities elsewhere. Thus, if one day it becomes widely known that the PhD graduates from Singapore's universities can secure academic jobs at reputable universities in foreign countries, then that would really be the pinnacle of success. This kind of success is obviously not built overnight, but I suggest that this is something that Singapore can and should aim for as a long-term goal.

To help to achieve the above, some of the top scholars who did their bachelor's degrees overseas should in fact be encouraged to pursue their masters and doctoral degrees in Singapore. In other words, what I suggest is a 'foreign-then-local' sequence to complement but not replace the 'local-then-foreign' strategy, which is also necessary. I would be very proud as a Singaporean if I can one day tell a foreign friend, "This researcher who won a Nobel Prize is a Singaporean who did his PhD (and maybe bachelor's degree as well) in NUS/NTU/SMU! He did his research training here!"

So this is my heartfelt wish for Singapore...


Blogger takchek said...

I think it's not just the scholarship boards, but the mindsets of the students have to change too.

How many of Singapore's brightest actually aspire to study in NUS/NTU/SMU if they are given a choice between local and overseas universities? In fact, what I heard on the streets is that many are trying to secure merit based scholarships (no bond) from the overseas universities.

Tue Jul 05, 11:01:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Alson Teo said...

Hmm... me only 'O' Level. :(

Wed Jul 06, 10:05:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi takchek: welcome to HS manor! :) What you said is indeed true to some extent (i.e. many scholars want to go overseas)...although I would say that I've encountered numerous local grads who are extremely brilliant. I don't actually know (in the absence of statistics) how many of the brightest go overseas and how many study locally...

Hi dead poet: fret not... :) cos certs do not necessarily correlate with success or wealth. (E.g. the top real estate agents are millionaires, and skills & experience count more than certs in that industry and many other industries). In fact, many PhD holders are very poor, because they have spent their entire family fortune on the education (>$300K)...Now that, to me, is truly sad...

Wed Jul 06, 07:37:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Beach-yi said...

The Singapore ethos can be summed up in just one simple everyday item we take for granted: the light bulb.

The measure of one person's worth in Singapore is determined by the relative level of brightness one exhibits. Well, I give up on that, I opt out. Bye bye.

Thu Jul 07, 11:50:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi beach-yi: dun give up/opt out pls :) The key question is: would you accept that measure of worth? If not, then u shouldn't let it bother u...

Thu Jul 07, 06:09:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Dorothy said...

Hmm.. I agree! Why should we allow others to determine our worth? Although its difficult not to get discouraged after so many years of the systematic evaluation of human worth in Singapore, I have decided that we are all worthy for a million different reasons, and not just for one (e.g. brightness).

Fri Jul 08, 12:43:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Sze Meng said...

A different perspective to the issue


Sun Aug 21, 09:57:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Sze Meng, thanks for the article! I'll link it again here for easy clicking :)

Sun Aug 21, 12:48:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous cx said...

Refer to what both Janadas Devan, in the ST, and MM Lee have said: that a good university is good because it has good students.

Your solution is that the best Singapore students ought to consider studying in a local university.

Your solution does not consider two important issues.

First, the attraction of a top overseas university is not just its rank in league tables. Part of the lure is living overseas by yourself, and building and learning independence. I think this is a very important consideration for many; it was, and is, for me. And it is a particularly pertinent concern in a small place like Singapore.

Second, students do not choose a reputatable foreign university over a local one because the standard of teaching is better there. It isn't always. The quality of facilities is not always higher. The tutors are not always better at teaching; they may have written the textbooks that everyone uses, but many write textbooks because they are poor at teaching the old fashioned way. And that's not good for their students.

So can a good university only be good if it has good students? Surely, then the best solution must be to attract the best foreign students; they will benefit from the new experience of a new country, and the university will gain in repute too. Putting moral pressure on bright local students to study locally will not work. Oxford and Harvard did not rise in prominence merely by teaching the best in the UK and the USA.

Wed Aug 31, 12:48:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Cx, I do agree with you that studying overseas has many benefits, and that an overseas education can be attractive for non-academic reasons that you've mentioned, not only academic ones.

But my 'solution' is not to somehow 'force' local students to study locally (and neither is this MM Lee's solution, I think). Instead, I feel that we can encourage Singaporeans to study locally by making the local unis more attractive, vis-a-vis foreign ones. And one of the ways to enhance their attractiveness is to accord them greater prestige.

On the point about Oxford and Harvard, although you're right that they don't "merely teach the best in the UK or US" - which means they have many good overseas students too - they do teach the best students in the UK or US. The top students from UK and US do aspire to go to Oxford and Harvard respectively, rather than venture out of their own countries (contra Singapore's current situation).

That is the kind of 'prestige-within-your-own-country-among-your-own-people' that I hope local universities can build up.

Wed Aug 31, 09:48:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous cx said...

Unfortunately you put quote marks around the word 'force', which is a word I never used to describe your position, or even at all.

Universities gain prestige not because they teach the best of their own country. The latter is the consequence of the former.

It is useless to encourage the best local students to enrol in a second-rate university in order to build up the prestige of said university. Students flock to where the light is brightest; but they cannot be counted on to be that light.

This is especially the case if these students can and do choose established, famous overseas institutions.

Third, it is difficult to make a national university prestigious, especially among the local population. A national university by definition is inclusive, not exclusive.

At the moment a crazy balancing act is going on in all local universities. They are actively attracting the best students from the region, but at the same time they have to retain places and entry for local students, some of whom will naturally be of inferior calibre.

The best option might be to create an elite local university, by restricting enrolment to only the best. This university will be prestigious, but unfortunately not many of its students will be Singaporean. The US and the UK have Harvard and Oxford because they have many other universities. Singapore cannot dream of doing the same.

Mon Sep 05, 02:59:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Cx, re your 1st comment:

"Putting moral pressure on bright local students to study locally will not work."

That was why I used the word 'force' in my reply to reconstruct your argument, since 'pressuring' is a bit like 'forcing'. I guess I'll use the word that you've used then - which is 'pressure'. Hence, my solution is not to exert moral pressure on the best local students to study in local unis...etc (so my argument goes in my reply comment earlier).

Your latest comment has one assumption - that local unis are indeed 2nd-rate. But are they? In terms of...? I don't think the local unis are 2nd rate at all. I think that is only the perception...

Tue Sep 06, 09:12:00 AM 2005  
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