Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why do we go to university

I know that I said that I'll lay of the UiTM issue for a while but I can't help but publish this insightful letter written by Oon Yeoh, my partner in crime for our Malaysiakini Realpolitik podcasts. I've reproduced the letter in full below.

Why do we go to university?
Oon Yeoh | Aug 19, 08 5:08pm

University life seems like an eternity ago and I barely remember any of my professors or the subjects they taught me. There was, however, one memorable lesson given by a guest lecturer whose name I cannot recall but whose message still resonates with me until today.

In light of the controversy that followed Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim's suggestion that UiTM open itself to some non-Malays, I would like to share what I learned from that guest lecturer who was invited to give a talk in the sports journalism class I was taking.

He was a baseball expert but when he took to the podium, he told us that he was not going to talk about America's favourite pastime.
Instead, he had a question for all of us: "Why are you all in college?"

That seemed like an easy enough question to answer. Several students quickly put up their hands.

"So we can get a good job one day and make lots of money!" said one student, to loud laughter.

The lecturer smiled and said, "Come on, we all know that there are many people who never went to college and are rich beyond imagination."

"To get an education," said another student.

"You don't necessarily have to go to college to do that," the lecturer said. "Many people get their education through the school of hard knocks."

Another student said, "To get a degree. You can't get that unless you go to university."

To that, the lecturer replied, "That's not true. You can take correspondence courses."

At that point, everybody seemed stumped so the lecturer finally said, "The main reason you go to college is to learn to socialise" and he proceeded to elaborate.

When you graduate and enter the work force, you will be surrounded by generally like-minded people with roughly the same educational background and social status.

If you are in banking, the people around you would have probably studied finance. If you are in the medical field, the people you mingle with will be fellow doctors and nurses. And if you are in architecture, your network of friends and associates will inevitably be those in the building and construction industry.

Unless you happen to have a very unique job that requires you to mingle with a broad range of people, the harsh reality is that your world will be constrained by your career choices.

College is the only time in your life when you are exposed to all kinds of people from all walks of life and from very different backgrounds – unless of course you go to UiTM.

While preparing to do a podcast on the controversy surrounding Khalid's comments, my podcasting partner, Ong Kian Ming, said something remarkably similar to what the guest lecturer had said. "The whole idea of a university is for different people to get together and interact."

He's spot on, just as the guest lecturer was. If you don't learn how to deal with a myriad of people and expose yourself to different worldviews when you are in the spring time of your life – when you are young and carefree – how will you ever be able to do so when you enter the "real world" and have to cope with the challenges and insecurities of carving out a career and struggling to make ends meet every month?

As mentioned earlier, your world will naturally constrained by the career track that you choose. But if you've had exposure to diversity early on, you would have a better chance of broadening your network beyond what would normally be the case – because you learned how to do so when you were young.

I was very lucky to have attended a cosmopolitan American university which had students from all over the US and indeed, the world. I had classmates from every continent. Some were rich, some poor; some were from developed countries, some from the third world. But in college, all of us were equals - we attended class together, we did assignments together, we played together.

Not to denigrate the value of academic lessons – they are important, of course – but my experiences in dealing with and socialising with classmates who were very different from me played a bigger role in my personal growth and development than any specific subjects I learned.

Granted, there are no universities in Malaysia that can offer the diversity you could find in popular American universities, which make it a point to take in students from all over the world.

But Malaysia does have a pretty diverse population. Even without the benefit of foreign students, there's a lot that our young people can learn from schoolmates of different ethnicity, religions and backgrounds. What a shame if we don't give them a chance to do that.

In our most recent podcast article, Kian Ming and I asked: "Can UiTM really aspire to be a world-class university if all the students there are of one particular race?" The people who are protesting Khalid's suggestion would do well to ponder upon this rhetorical question.


Shawn Tan said...

In post-NEP Malaysia, you do not need to go to UiTM to only mix with your own kind. Polarisation starts in school and is completed at the university.

Tiara said...

HA! I'm glad someone had the cojones to ask that question. About time.

What happened to "because my parents told me to"? That would have been my answer. :P

Anonymous said...

Because my STPM results showed that I could ;)

Anonymous said...

I have two things to say.

1) I think what you and that lecturer allude to is that a big part of college especially undergraduate education is about the diversity of ideas and experience. Socialising is part of that. There is no doubt the diversity of ideas and experience at the beginning of specialisation of skills open one up to be a better specialist in whatever we do later. When we specialize in something later, it allows us to adapt, change and improve in many many more myriad ways not to mention in our personal lives too.

2) You are making an assumption here that UiTM goal is to be world class - that is just PR. Every uni says that. In reality UiTM goal is actually enabling of disadvantage. Your point should have been if the disadvantage are handicap by limited experience, why is UiTM limiting their experience, which we have concluded is just as valuable, by not opening up? Isn't that against their objective?

Anonymous said...

If I was asked that question I would say it was the next natural step to take in our education progression.

You should asked instead the people who go to UITM why they go to UITM and not other universities.

The answer is in next comment.

Anonymous said...

The answer is because they cannot enter on merit or face competition

Anonymous said...

Entering into a top university and get a quality degree is essential to our future career prospects.

msleepyhead said...

Perhaps you may also wish to write about education inflation. With degrees being the standard these days in most countries, what are the values of degrees.

In the past an MCE or even HSC would get you a decent job, but now, even graduates need further training as evidenced by what is happening now.

So has the education quality dropped or is it because we are churning out drones because we can and want to but not because we truly want to educate the nation.

I've argued before elsewhere that you don't need to be a public certified accountant if you live in a long house in the interiors of Sarawak.

One of the main aims of our current education system is to provide manpower for industrialization and modern day living, jobs in offices which everyone so cherishes.

Are we going to university to become modern day slaves, building an invisible pyramid?

Unknown said...

Why do we go to polytechnic..
why....because my result just ok go to polytechinic sajalah...pls Tony Pua can u make some noise about polytechic, standard in Malaysia.the problem is about advanced standing to enter local IPTA in Malaysia it very.very teruk..

Anonymous said...

Good question. In actuality I don't know why. Everybody has got a degree. So should I. No matter what the field is, like BA Music in Singing, BA (Hons) Catering specialising in Chinese Cuisine, as long as I've a degree. lol. :D

Isaac said...

Really a good question! I think everybody, especially students and parents should think about it seriously. In my opinion, most of people out there thinking of making big money by entering into popular courses in top universities. To me, university's life is the time for us to learn to become a good and useful person by gaining as much as knowledge in any field which will enable us to contribute to the our family, society, country and to every human being in this world.

Isaac said...

To all malaysians (bangsa Malaysia), a meaningful quote for you all to think about regarding on this hot UiTM issue...

You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don't.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.
(By Rumi)

Anonymous said...

I dont want to go to UITM even if they beg me !

Josette said...

I go to university because there seems to be no other better choice.

But that letter's very insightful. I'm glad I came to this blog to read it!

To socialize. Yup, it's kind of true. But with people from different ethnicities and walks of life? I don't think so. If you were to walk into a uni, you'll most likely notice that the students are clustered in groups of the same race. That's what I see every day. There will only be a handful of groups where there are a mixture of races.

Even my lecturer has mentioned that. He said that in his time, there was no such thing as race. Everyone made friends with one another, ate together, played together, and roommates were also of other races. However now, they put people of the same race as roommates! How can we achieve integration this way?

Something ought to be done about this problem. I'd really like to see people of different races mix more with one another!

Anonymous said...

Why people choose to go to UiTM?

-I don't know about you but during my time (SPM2003), the UPU application form requires uni hopefuls to fill in 8 choices, by order of preference. i was aiming for business or finance courses, regardless of the uni. when i ran out of uni, i put in other courses which i find moderately to get the 8 which is required. i think a lot of people doesnt really choose uitm. msian students doesnt have much choice about the uni they attend because of the centralised placement system. at least, this was the case during my time. and i didnt get the course (or the uni) that was my first choice. i actually got my fifth choice. and no, it wasn't uitm. i got into a teacher training college.

Standards are low in UiTM?

-since the university was founded on a social (also racial) purpose, the entry requirements were minimal. however, i hv a close friend who went there who could testify that it isn't easy to get good CGPA at the university. Easy to masuk, hard to score. The minimal entry requirement shouldn't be made a weakness, unless you're looking at it from the academic elitist point of view. i would rather look at it as the great equaliser. students from various SES have an opportunity to go to the uni and compete in the same environment. who knows, the kid from the kampung who didnt get much A can compete with the MRSM leavers, perhaps can even score better after 4 years of study. all because he is given the opportunity to be in that environment, the same one as the others.

That's just what I think and I want to share it with you. Also, I am a firm believer in positive affirmations. I do not think that fault-finding just to make ourselves feel good about ourselves is a good habit. gradually, we'll turn into what we despise if we keep doing it.