The importance of a university degree

I refer to an article taken from The Straits Times website almost a year ago by Toh Yong Chuan:

“Singaporeans do not need to be university graduates to be successful, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

What is more important is that they get good jobs after leaving school, Mr Khaw told some 160 students and young adults in an Our Singapore Conversation dialogue.

“If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,” he added.

Mr Khaw was responding to a participant who said the Government should set aside more university places for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates.”

How do I feel about this comment in the position of a Singaporean and a student of the country’s National University? Have I just wasted 2 years of my time studying in university? While I do agree that university degrees are “not vital” for success, I felt that Mr. Khaw was being insensitive towards the younger generation. Listen to your people.

So what really is the value of a university degree? Individuals perceive it differently, and what about me? Possessing a university degree is getting very common in Singapore today, and anyone can Google for the statistics. Okay i’m lazy to find the statistics but I’ve lived in Singapore long enough to know. The word “common” is debatable too, because we still find that university graduates are still a minority of the population. Look how I used the word “common”. Why did I use it knowing that the majority of Singaporeans do not go to university? This is because most of the people i spend time with are either undergraduates or graduates. I have very few friends who do not go to university. This is the way my life turned out to be, but this is also the flaw of society. Having only mingled with the “same species”, we do not see the rest of Singapore.


“Our Species”

I grew up in a bubble. I went to a neighbourhood primary school, scored relatively well in PSLE to gain entry into a “good” secondary school, and then Junior College. I was young and I didn’t exactly know what happened. My parents told me I must score well and so I did. The society told me that I must study hard, get good grades, go into good schools, get a university degree, a good job with high pay so that I can live happily ever after. The Singapore education system separates students into “neighbourhood” and “good” schools. Some even classify “top schools”. What this system does is to cut the ties between people with different learning standards. I do not like to study honestly, but I have a very strong learning capability. That was why I was able to “do well” by using what I called “lazy methods” to study. I grew up in this education bubble where I was separated from the more colourful side of Singapore. The people whom we called “cannot study one”, “gangsters”, “小混混” etc. were all outside our bubble. We only mingled with our “own species” from secondary school onward.

It wasn’t until I entered the Army that I realised “our species” was actually the minority in Singapore. Oh for that matter, I was enlisted in the “Junior College” batch. So naturally everyone was the “same species” during my basic military training. I became an instructor and saw people with broken families, people abusing drugs, people who dropped out of school for various reasons. These are the majority. It was overwhelming. It dawned on me that “our species” is very ignorant. We are helpless compared to these “other species”. I had to learn to be a counsellor, a baby-sitter as well as a disciplinarian. Dealing with people holding a different mindset is not easy.

The value of a degree


Now, how much does a university degree worth to this “other species”? It is not important at all. They have much more important matters to worry about, so much so that we should be ashamed for worrying about “what modules should I take?”. Education did not come easy for these people. It could be their choice, but this whole meritocracy thing is still bullshit. We don’t start on fair grounds in the first place.

How much does it worth to “our species” then? Oh please. Just take a look at the class participation wars, the deadly invisible arrows flying all over the campuses, the cocky behaviour of some CAP5s and interestingly, the sulking “I hate local Us” poor-things who got rejected by local Universities. Oh not to mention these lost souls who will say, “I’m unsure what I want to do, I get a degree first and plan later”. The degree is their life. It’s the gateway to heaven. It’s the gateway to being a CEO, CFO, COO for some, or even buying a COE for that matter. Having a degree does not necessarily secure you a job, but it definitely helps in a job competition with someone who does not possess one. Who are you kidding minister?

The value of a good job

How do you define what is a good job? Similarly, individuals have different perspectives. For some, the culture of the company is the most important. For others, gold is greed. People do look at many aspects the job and company can offer.

What is more important is that they get good jobs after leaving school”. This statement is very vague. To many, “good jobs” are jobs that require university degrees. Please do not tell me being a taxi driver is a good job. Maybe a personal chauffeur would be a better one? So what can these non graduates do for a “good job”? You cannot compare, YOU C-A-N-N-O-T COMPARE JUST LIKE THAT. If I define a “good job” as being a management associate in CitiBank, and I only have a polytechnic diploma of what… business management… you are gonna tell me to dream on right?

So now I assume that this statement advises people to be self-content. Oh, it’s not important to get a degree… what is more important is for your child to get a good job so that he can at least earn a living, because not many people can be ministers, not many people can be high officials in the government commanding high pay. I seriously think it is utmost inappropriate for ministers to advise the average to be self-content. This is an insult to us “commoners”.

The value of success

What does success mean to you? I am sure Mr. Khaw is successful! Being a minister and all, must be so proud. We are proud of you too! Well I totally agree with you that I do not have to get a degree to be successful. Wait, but if I want to be a minister I have to get a degree right? Well I don’t want anyway. Let’s continue.. Many successful people such as Robert Kiyosaki said: The A graders work for the C graders and the B graders work for the government. Look at Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg. They were all dropouts right? Aren’t they all very successful now? They are all in Forbes’ list of billionaires. But wait again, how come I don’t see a Singaporean dropout billionaire? This is not really about meritocracy or not okay, it’s the culture we are immersed in, the policies we are subjected to and the societal rules we are bounded to. In Singapore, the government sucks out quite a number of A graders, and the C graders were kinda dumped by the education system. Let’s just be honest, you put the students with poor grades together and talk about meritocracy.

And you expect them to say, “Hey we can all do better than the graduates”.

And you expect them to be “successful without a university degree”.

I don’t mean it is impossible or in any bad way, but just look at facts. Proper advice should have been given instead of saying such insensitive comments! How can these non graduates be successful? Isn’t the government encouraging entrepreneurship? Aren’t there so many grants that the government is offering? Why not put the government in a good light by mentioning how the society can improve together? All these successful billionaires provided free lessons for us. For C graders to be successful, go into entrepreneurship! You certainly do not have to have a degree to start a business.

My takes on a degree and success

Like I said, I am a lazy person. I want to do what I want to do. Being an employee in a structured company is not an option for me. Well basically I never wanted to work, but that’s impossible because income doesn’t drop from the sky. So what can I do to stay free while still surviving healthily to enjoy the moments in life? I must have passive income, and how do I achieve that? That is a question we have to answer ourselves. Businesses, property, investments etc. The list is never ending, so why settle for something that can never compare to having total freedom? All the concerns regarding starting up a business are just excuses. To me, there is no “whether can I do it”, there is only “whether I want to do it”. I don’t know about others, but I only live once, and I’m gonna live it big.

So why did I study in business school? What a waste of time. I won’t even use my degree to find a job right? Frankly, I didn’t know the answer. I just studied because I was in my bubble. But I came to learn that some of the things we learnt in class are very useful. Although not very hands-on, the knowledge served as a foundation to being all-rounded. I don’t mug, I don’t compete for grades. I’m happy with just a B grade as long as I knew what I learnt and I knew that I could apply in real situations. I came to university to learn, not to obtain that degree. A university degree is not important to me, at all. Well, at least the degree will be a nice display in my room in the coming years.

-Chun Kiat


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