The problem with Higher Education in Singapore

The 2 articles that inspired this blog post.

What is college for? | Why I am Not a Professor

They are very lengthy, but they are really worth reading. In essence, there a problem where schools these days are dumbed down to simply graduate students through a series of processes that will almost certainly ensure that KPI’s are achieved (through the bell-curve god) in order to fund research that are going nowhere (again, read the article “Why I am Not a Professor” to understand this, and try to think of what bleeding edge technology has NUS come out with that is widely used in the real world), and at the same time, produce graduates who cannot do anything. This is a crisis that affects not only the industry, but national security as well (the military can only hire locals, and the schools are not producing enough talents).

And yet, when students come up and voice these opinions out, the professors shoot down the students saying they are whining, they don’t know better, or that other universities are the same. Read here, an excellent rebuttal to the last argument, an argument that has been made by the elites in Singapore for a huge variety of problems, including education and transportation.

I think the time has come for change within the educational system, such that actual learning actually take place, and not just trying to meet KPI’s. And the government needs to wake up it’s idea, and realise that creating more universities is only going to cause more problems.

And the universities had better start realising using the number of papers professors write as KPI is destroying the intellectual culture, and not bringing value to anyone. A random check on 4 professors who have taught me before proved the following point.

The more prosaic truth emerges when you scan the titles of these epics. First, the author rarely appears alone, sharing space with two or three others. Often the collaborators are Ph.D. students who are routinely doing most of the spade work on some low grant in the hope of climbing the greasy pole. Dividing the number of titles by the author’s actual contribution probably reduces those hundred papers to twenty-five. Then looking at the titles themselves, you’ll see that many of the titles bear a striking resemblance to each other. “Adaptive Mesh Analysis” reads one and “An Adaptive Algorithm for Mesh Analysis” reads another. Dividing the total remaining by the average number of repetitions halves the list again.

From “Why I am Not a Professor”

I suspect if someone actually went to do research on it, the results would more or less be the same.

So what’s my main point here? I’m really concerned about the state of the tech economy here in Singapore. A quick poll among most funded startups and MNC’s in Singapore shows most of the real work being done by foreign talents. The universities simply aren’t doing their job of fostering an intellectual culture anymore. They are no longer producing people interested to learn, but rather, robots who only know how to follow SOP and meet KPI’s. And the worst part is, the system rewards these people.

There needs to be a shift from the existing culture. And the first problem that needs to be solved is the universities.

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