Graduating into uncertainty
By Kwan Jin Yao
“Come 2020, Singapore would see a 40 per cent cohort participation in its local universities, in addition to many pursuing private or overseas degrees” (What’s A Degree Worth Now?, Miss Jacqueline Woo).
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 scholars 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) in retrospect, because I have been open to different opportunities and 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 commentaries 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). “[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.
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.
International advisor on education Sir Ken Robinson 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 fingers in multiple pies, doing endeavours outside school, and putting in much more effort. Perhaps the most unfortunate realisation is that there is no running from the rat race. Sometimes we speak derisively of competition and pragmatic exchanges, 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 on and evaluation of Singapore’s position in the future both graduates and non-graduates could wake up to a discomforting tomorrow.
This post was first published over at the blog of Kwan Jin Yao on 11 June 2014. It is reproduced with permission.
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