Khaw Boon Wan: So what if you have a degree?

From ‘University degree ‘not vital for success’:Khaw Boon Wan’, 5 May 2013, article by Toh Yong Chuan, Sunday Times

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.

Said Mr Khaw: “Can you have a whole country where 100 per cent are graduates? I am not so sure.

“What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment.”

I’m not sure what our Minister meant by ‘you can’t EAT it’. Did he mean you can’t physically eat a degree? Or is ‘eat it’ his way of saying ‘can’t endure suffering’ in the ‘bite the bullet’ sense? In any case, Khaw himself graduated from Australia under the Colombo Plan Scholarship as a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours Class I. In 2002, he was awarded a Doctor of Engineering honoris causa, which makes him DR KHAW according to the University of Newcastle website, though his Cabinet Profile retains the ‘Mr’.

The Minister’s daughter, Khaw Chun Ting, has apparently caught the engineering bug from her father, herself an Engine graduate from the Class of 2010.  Daddy looks as proud as any father would in his position in the picture below, and it’s not clear if he had the notion in his head then that a university degree is ‘no big deal, really’. I’m sure if Chun Ting wanted to skip uni altogether and join an NGO to save endangered turtles from extinction, Daddy would understand perfectly. (Chun Ting has a Facebook profile that you’re free to Google, where you can tell she likes performing on stage, has worked for ST Electronics and ‘Likes’ the PAP Facebook page. Obviously.)

It’s a given that extraordinary success stories have come out of individuals without stellar academic qualifications, but it’s tempting to ask a graduate Minister with a graduate daughter if he would have been OK with any of his daughters opting for a polytechnic education instead, or as his boss would call it, the JEWEL of Singapore’s educational system. It’s like asking Minister of Defence if he would send his sons to war, or the Minister of Education if he sends his kids for holiday tuition.

There seems to be a recent surge of calls for Singaporeans to be less obsessed with the paper chase and settle for jobs like hawkers or crane operators, by leaders who are the very products of the said paper chase no less. In contrast, we were all told in the mid sixties that a University education ‘will pay rich dividends’, the only place of learning which can produce not only ‘specialists, but also well rounded, cultivated men and women of learning…with analytical powers and WISDOM..who can be FUTURE LEADERS’. An article in 1966 ends with the following smarty-pants prediction:

Despite fears about their monetary value, a degree in time may well be regarded as the ONLY academic qualification for most jobs.

Then there’s the other problem about marriage and birth rates. Singaporean women, particularly graduates, have been found to prefer men with ‘higher qualifications’. The lack of a degree but a decent job may earn you ‘a good life’, but getting a ‘good wife’, or ANY wife, is another matter altogether if you’re not of a certain ‘calibre’. It’s an ugly truth that we all have to deal with every single day. I’d love to see the look on the Minister’s face when he finds out that his future son-in-law turns out to be a highly paid crane operator. Still, if you happen to be interested to know any of Khaw’s lovely daughters but do not hold a degree, I recommend that you save the article above and print for safekeeping, so that when the time comes to meet the parents and Khaw interrogates your educational qualifications or lack thereof, you’d know EXACTLY how to defend yourself.

I guess this guy’s face from the Sunday Times photoshoot of the Conversation event says it all. THIS FACE. My sentiments exactly.

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One Response

  1. The fact is not everyone is university material. In particular, the majority of polytechnic graduates should enter the workforce after obtaining their diplomas. Further, to preserve the prestige of our university’s degree, we should consider gradually reducing the number of university places.

    There is no shame in not having a degree so please stop perpetuating that unhealthy belief.

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