Getting students to pay it forward

Getting students to pay it forward
NUS' Dr Tan Lai Yong using a miniature sink as an analogy during a class on hidden communities. NUS is expanding its residential college programmes to engage students more deeply on issues such as social change.

SINGAPORE - It's past midnight and National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduates are at an industrial park observing PUB engineers hunched over pipes, tracking water leaks.

The students see that the engineers are a tight team, working well together.

Their visit is part of a class on Singapore's hidden communities. Later, in the classroom, they admit that until then, few had given a thought to the highly skilled professionals who look after Singapore's water supply.

But a question from their teacher is unexpected: "If you were the human resource manager, how will you promote staff there who do well?"

His point is that promoting an engineer who is already good at his job and comfortable with his colleagues to be a desk-bound, tie-wearing manager may be his career downfall.

The awareness of the "soft" ramifications of hard-nosed business decisions is an aspect of a topic raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month - that of local universities having a wider national and social mission beyond grades and rankings.

He urged them to imbue "Singaporean values and ethos, the spirit of wanting to contribute back to society and the sense that they have a responsibility to take Singapore forward".

Says NUS' vice-provost for student life, Professor Tan Tai Yong: "The university in the 1970s and the 1980s was essentially to produce the right manpower to drive the economy.

"As society becomes more advanced, it's not just about fitting people into certain sectors of the economy, but for them to play leadership roles."

Insight looks at this education shift, and how it's happening.

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