Thursday, March 09, 2006

Parliament was fun!

I spent a day in Parliament yesterday. It was fun! too bad I couldn't bring a camera in to show and tell.. but I don't understand why, anyway, it's a televised session, why no camera?

Right at the gate to exchange passes I had my first incident of note. The queue had two lines, "Ministry officials" and "public". I was behind my friend who was being served, and I'd just noticed that the other counter was open, but I didn't walk over (my friend's name and mine were together so it was easier to serve us both). Instead, this lady walked past us to the counter, past the rest of the queue. So the guy behind us spoke up and said, "Excuse me, why don't you have to queue?" And the lady said she was a ministry official. Whereupon the guy who spoke up said, "Well, so are we!" The lady just ignored him at that point...

You know those magnetic walkthrough scanners? At the airport, I always worried that the screw in my wrist would set it off. Now with the screw out, I confidently unloaded all metal objects and walked through. Set it off. In fact, no-one managed to get through. This tells me two things. (1) Why bother with the big scanner? The policeman's gonna have to screen you with the handheld scanner anyway. (2) If someone walks through without setting it off, as a police personnel I would really be suspicious.

Well, on to the debate proper. Three main funny bits and 1 interesting one:

1) PhD from USC v Hon D from SCU
1 MP's speech touched on the misuse of honorary doctorates. In particular the raised the example of one CEO who recently had to clarify that he did not have a PhD from University of Southern California, he had an honorary doctorate from Southern California University. "The former a top 30 university, the latter... couldn't be found in a listing of universities in California."

2) So long as it's a male costume...
Dr Ng Eng Hen made a joke about Mr Lim Swee Say's being a chef one week and a roadsweeper the next. He was remarking on the success of the JRP and wondered what uniform he would wear next - but so long as it was a male costume it was okay!

3) Bao bao bao
Mr Seng Han Thong also had a very nice speech in Chinese. I actually thought the Mandarin speakers were much more entertaining than most of the English ones. Anyway, he made a few jokes based on the use of the word "bao" in outsourcing, comparing "wai bao", "hao bao", "lan bao" and others. I'm looking for a Mandarin transcript, anyone have one?

4) NUS University Fees
Out of order here, but this was the interesting one to me. Basically the argument is that NUS can practice "needs-blind admission" (true) and maintain a high-quality education ( some would disagree) based on 3 factors: Govt funding, realistic fees, and financial assistance for the poorest. And NUS/NTU/SMU together offered 25% of each cohort a high quality education.

Now, I first must say that I think that the fees generally are reasonable - whether hikes are, or whether consultation is necessary, I don't know. And the quality of education is not poor - Despite all of the stories I head bandied around, my memory of NUS education was a rigorous one, even if it was somewhat boring compared to my overseas experiences.

Therefore, I would not mind sending my child to NUS. However, I would not expect the same standard of education of say an Ivy League institution, no matter what the rankings say. That's not a slight to NUS. I simply think (and have always thought), that NUS has a dilemma at its being, in that it has to provide education for Singaporeans in general and is unable to restrict itself to an elite bunch of entrants.

Just remember. 25% of each cohort. I'm not sure how many students NUS has, but I'm pretty sure that entrance grades for NUS are far far lower than MIT, or most of the Ivy League schools. And that's the way it has to be, otherwise even more Singaporeans won't be able to get in. Not that Singaporeans are dumb, far from it, but it is not appropriate to compare NUS with the Ivy Leagues.

There's a lot to say here, but at the end of the day, I would say that NUS students should stop bitching about the "shortcomings" of NUS, and realise that their university education is in their own hands. If you think that your NUS degree won't get you places, well, you have plenty of time between classes and during holidays to do stuff to build up your resume.

Well, that takes care of quality. That leaves cost. Simply consider this: your education will help you earn higher wages. If you think that having an $x increase in your starting wage (NTU reported $2600 right?) and even larger increments over the rest of your working life are not worth the university fees and 4 years of your life, then my advice to you is, don't! If it is an economically sound decision, then why should anyone pay you to do what is profitable to you? If it's not a sound decision, then go seek out whatever gives you the best opportunity cost: entrepreneur, retailer, hawker, insurance agent, soccer player, Singapore idol. If you are at this juncture of your life, you have the opportunity to make of your life what you will. Your most precious resources are time and hope. Don't waste time burning your own hope...

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