This undergrad is nervous - and for good reason

LOOKING AHEAD: The writer says that without a frank conversation and evaluation of Singapore's position in the future, both graduates and non-graduates could wake up to an uncomfortable tomorrow.


    Jun 05, 2014

    This undergrad is nervous - and for good reason

    I GRADUATE in three years. And I am nervous.

    The degree was never a guarantee for everything. Today the degree (and how well you do) is still a signalling mechanism, a mere knock on the door, but with knowledge becoming more ubiquitous and accessible, the value of the degree has diminished.

    Those who do well know there is no replacement for industry - with or without a university education. After all, the school cannot prepare one fully for the workplace, for the demands - routine responsibilities, steep learning curves, bureaucratic hierarchies - can only be experienced first-hand.

    And there is the problem of choice. General degree? Specialised? Concurrent? There are the doctors and lawyers, who had aspirations from young. The teachers and public sector scholarship holders, who have their first years charted out. And me, the clueless business student, who… really has no idea.

    Stereotypes aside, it has been good to trudge along (and sometimes fail), because I have been exposed to different opportunities and made more aware of what works.

    In a new environment, I start from the very bottom and just soak everything up.

    Uncertainty unsettles. So I do as much as possible to reduce that uncertainty.

    My Paper ran articles two weeks ago on the potential graduate glut.

    "Come 2020, Singapore would see a 40 per cent cohort participation in its local universities, in addition to many pursuing private or overseas degrees," Miss Jacqueline Woo wrote (My Paper, May 30).

    She also wrote that a "degree can no longer be looked to as a passport to a good job and a good life".

    Be that as it may, there will only be a supposed surplus of graduates if the Government is not in sync with the disruptions of the future.

    Forecasts and projections are always fraught with difficulties. The challenges of uncertainty are not unique to graduates, and will affect Singapore as a whole.

    Information technology graduates were caught flat-footed when technical support positions were outsourced. Business graduates had bleak prospects when the financial crisis struck.

    Anything could happen in the next three years before I graduate.

    Ken Robinson, an international adviser on education, famously remarked that "(Nobody has a clue) what the world will look like in five years' time. And yet we're meant to be educating (children) for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary".

    With so much uncertainty and ambiguity we have to adapt to survive, to be flexible to changes.

    For me that means having a finger in multiple pies, doing endeavours outside school, and putting in much more effort.

    Perhaps the most painful realisation is that there is no running away from the rat race.

    Sometimes we speak derisively of competition, yet Singapore's vulnerability means that competition is never a choice.

    Even so, we do not talk about the future enough.

    Our arrogance could cost us dearly.

    The universities and their degrees have made many of us myopic, and contented to relish in the comforts of the status quo.

    Without a frank conversation and evaluation of Singapore's position in the future, both graduates and non-graduates could wake up to an uncomfortable tomorrow.


    The writer is a first-year student at the National University of Singapore and blogs about current affairs at http://guan yinmiao.wordpress.com