Going to university is about more than just getting qualifications; it should also be about preparing oneself for life and bettering society, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah yesterday.
She was speaking at the biennial Union Forum organised by the National University of Singapore Students' Union, on "the idea of the university".
Students should enrol in university to gain broader knowledge than just the degrees they earn, and "emerge with an enlarged worldview" having learnt ideas with power to have impact on lives, she said.
"The attainment of the degree is not an end in itself. The degree doesn't make you a better person... a good person," she added.
"The ultimate purpose of the university is really for the betterment of the person, society and mankind."
Later, in a panel discussion with NUS provost Tan Eng Chye and Straits Times Editor at Large Han Fook Kwang, Ms Indranee said she hoped Singapore universities would one day become "powerhouses" in generating ideas.
Singapore, she said, tends to "look to other countries for ideas", rather than creating its own. "What I would like is for people to look at a Singapore university and say: 'Hey! That idea came from a (local) university," she said.
But she added that universities must provide knowledge needed for students' future careers. "There has to be some kind of purpose to it at the end of the day but it should not be only that."
Prof Tan said students today were too focused on grades. Singapore society, being an "outcome-oriented" one, played a part in this, he said, but he hoped students would one day "learn for the sake of learning".
He noted how the first-choice courses for NUS applicants are consistently medicine, law and business, perhaps because of higher salaries in those fields.
"For the benefit of Singapore... it's important to have a good spread of talents across the various disciplines," he said.
Mr Han urged university faculty and students in Singapore to make their voices heard more, for example in the media, in discussions about issues facing Singapore. "If not, then by default, other people dominate the discussion... If you don't add your voice to it, then I think society will be poorer for it."
This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.
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