TL;DR – It depends.
Jack Sim, the Singaporean who founded the World Toilet Organisation (WTO), recently made a comment about attending university:
In the post, Jack said that his experience at university was a “stupefying process”. In the post, he didn’t seem to think much about the need for theories. He finished off with:
“We do not need education that stifle aspirations and creativity.”
Jack’s got a point. Academia can be stifling. Especially if the professors are fixated on their theories and aren’t willing to change.
But that’s actually (just) bad academia.
A good university education encourages aspiration and creativity
Good academia is about pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Good academia challenges convention. It is skeptical. It actually sets to prove itself wrong. And only after the theories survive repeated attempts at disproving it are they temporarily accepted to be correct. And even then, good academia will continue trying to disprove that theory, and replace it with a better one.
That actually takes courage, aspiration and creativity. And that process has been repeated numerous times throughout human history.
But that’s academia. A lot of people don’t go to university aiming to get into academia. So why bother? It’s to train the mind. To think, to question, to challenge in a convincing way. And a big part of going to university is also to meet people and make friends. With any luck, they will provide a strong community for you to learn and develop in, and can push you to improve yourself faster than if you were learning things alone.
And it could be a stepping stone to a better life
Besides, in Singapore, there are practical reasons for going to university. Like it or not, despite whatever the government officials are saying, Singaporeans still perceive having a university degree have an easier time getting a job and, generally, get paid more. However, that perception isn’t necessarily correct. It depends on which university you go to.
A survey showed that only six in 10 graduates from private education institutions found full-time jobs within six months after graduating, drawing an average starting monthly pay of S$2,550. In contrast, 79.9 per cent full-time job rate of graduates from the autonomous universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). The median starting pay for those from these autonomous universities was $3,325 a month. Fresh polytechnic graduates earned about S$2,517 per month.
So maybe if Jack had attended another university, say…. NUS, or SMU, or NTU, he might have found the process a little less stupefying perhaps?
Ultimately, it all depends on you
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to attend university to have a bright future and a good life. Some people might thrive better in a completely different environment.
Like Jack. He didn’t need to attend university to be a successful businessman. Neither did Chan Hon Meng. He still went on to be a very successful hawker, who’s probably making a lot more money than a lot of people his age who have degrees.
Bottom line. University education can be a terrible experience. Or it could be a wonderful period of your life where you learn, grow, develop a great deal. It could prove to be a very important process where you pick up very useful knowledge and skills. Or it could be a complete waste of time where you end up with nothing but a hefty debt.
At the end of the day, it’ll be an oversimplification to say that attending university is definitely a great or terrible idea. It really depends on the individual, his aspirations, his strengths and weaknesses, the university, and a whole lot more factors.
So do think carefully if you are at the stage to decide whether or not to head to university. Talk to different people, get their perspectives, then decide for yourself. And once you have decided, go all out to make your decision the right out.