Universities should be model of ideal S'pore

The graduation ceremony at National University of Singapore on Jul 7, 2015.
The graduation ceremony at National University of Singapore on Jul 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

I am heartened that our local universities have made great strides ("NUS, NTU in top 13 of world ranking"; Sept 15, and "Aim for good rankings and right values": yesterday).

Amid the euphoria over their achievements, it is, perhaps, time to reflect on their past and the role they would play in our next lap of development.

We have achieved First World status in compressed time and space. Our universities have churned out well-trained workers who grew the economic pie for all. Many have gone on to helm top positions in both the public and private sectors. The trickling-down effect to the masses is evident.

As a result, we have prospered as a nation.

But should we still hold a utilitarian view of our tertiary education? Beyond economics, should we not imbue in the best minds of the land the goal of holding the torch to something higher? In a fast-changing world, complex problems require complex solutions. No one has all the answers. Even if one does, it is only temporary.

Therefore, our universities should be the plug-ins to the network in the region and beyond.

Singapore should become an important node for the free flow of information and talents.

Our universities should be the gateways for many from foreign shores to join our quests to achieve our dreams and add to our metropolis, much like world cities such as New York and London.

We should develop a wide scope of talents in varied disciplines.

Beyond science and technology, we should also focus on the humanities and the so-called "soul food" in the arts and culture. Our universities should be vibrant and should continually re-invent themselves to stay relevant.

Without a doubt, our local graduates are smart. But they should think beyond the self and material. Their intellect should come through quiet confidence and not brashness. They can be articulate, but should also leave room for the discordance of views.

And because these graduates have run the farthest, they should see themselves as clearing the way so that more can follow. When we think of an exemplary Singaporean, we should think of them.

They are the standard bearers and guardians of our core values.

Our universities should not be just another factor of production that contributes to the gross domestic product pie. They should hold up as institutions, not just in research and learning, but in values and character, too. In short, our community of universities should be a model of the ideal Singapore that we want to build.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'Universities should be model of ideal S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe