How can NUS nurture graduates who are able to compete against the millions of other graduates?
In March this year, Evan Osnos, an American reporter for the New Yorker based in Beijing, appeared on The Colbert Report and revealed a startling fact. “There are more Chinese kids right now learning English than there are American kids learning English. Think about that for a second.” He declared to a rather bewildered Stephen Colbert.
Not just the Americans, we too here in NUS, Singapore, are cognizant that global competition is real. Last year, China’s universities and colleges produced over 6 million graduates, up from 2 million graduates just in 2003. We must thus enable and ensure that our graduates, though small in numbers, are competitive, and are a notch above the others.
Our challenge is cut out for us. The top 50 universities in China take in about 0.1% of China’s yearly cohort of newborns, which numbers in the millions. The three public universities in Singapore take in collectively about 25% of Singapore’s yearly cohort of roughly about 45,000 (new births, 18 years ago). Just based on pure statistics, China’s top universities already have a head start over us in NUS in terms of the calibre of undergraduates.
In light of this, how will our graduates compete with other top Asian graduates?
A key advantage that NUS graduates have over graduates of other Asian countries is our competence in English. That said, Chinese students are beginning to understand the importance of acquiring English, as Osnos had pointed out. According to this article, the demand for English teachers is insatiable and there are as many as 300 million Chinese people are learning English. This ‘English advantage’ will not hold out for long.
In my previous blog posts, (hyperlink: http://blog.nus.edu.sg/provost/2011/10/03/global-readiness-of-nus-graduates/) I had commented on the importance of global readiness and of having effective writing and communications skills. (http://blog.nus.edu.sg/provost/2011/10/18/writing-and-communications/) These are but some of many other attributes which we believe will better equip our graduates to compete globally.
One other important attribute is the competitive spirit of NUS graduates. Let me elaborate. On the university’s part, we have taken care to provide an array of free activities to aid NUS undergraduates in their development. For example, the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/) organizes free workshops on communications skills, on making effective presentations, etc., and there are also numerous job fairs and career workshops that the NUS Career Centre and individual Faculties/Schools provide for their students.
That NUS students do not seem keen attending job fairs, career workshops or communication skills workshops has been a point of our concern. This is in spite of arranging for workshops to be held during the weekends to avoid timetable clashes. I will be interested to understand why.
We are one of the world’s smallest countries, with a resident population of nearly 3.8 million people, a territory of 700 sq. km and no natural resources. By conventional wisdom, Singapore should be a rather insignificant country. Yet, Singapore has remarkably defied the odds to progress from third world to first in a single generation. This little country has evolved to become a global city that is a focal point for talent, enterprise, cultures and ideas from across the world. It is often said that Singapore ‘punches above her weight’, be it in economics or in diplomacy.
The physical and economic realities have not changed. Singapore has stayed ahead because we are continually a step faster and better than others. Can we continue to stay ahead? As NUS is a crucial part of the Singapore system, how can we enhance NUS education to nurture graduates who are competitive in the global workplace, and allow Singapore to stay ahead?