“If all you have done in your undergraduate days is to study, you have deprived yourself of an opportunity for a full student life.” That was the message that Dr Vivian Balakrisnan, Minister for Environment and Water Resources, imparted to a gathering of student leaders at the National University of Singapore on the evening of August 17th 2012.
Dr Balakrisnan was speaking at a student union forum co organized by the National University of Singapore Student Union (NUSSU) and the National University of Singapore Students’ Political Association (NUSSPA). Student Leaders from the four Singaporean universities’ student unions as well as 50 other students were in attendance at the interactive forum with Dr Balakrishnan.
Dr Balakrishnan spent the early part of the evening reminiscing on his life as an undergraduate. He explained to his student audience why it was important for them during their university years, to have an educational experience that went beyond books and exams.
“In my case, the friends I made, the lessons I learnt in organization, in making mistakes, having mistakes pointed out to you and correcting those mistakes, the networks I built, the knowledge and experience beyond my narrow field of medicine – all these are lessons of life. And I think I can tell you quite categorically, I will not be where I am today if all I had done was to study in medical school. So the point I want to make to you is that you must go beyond your books to take full advantage of your university life. To me that is the most important lesson and I often reflect on it in my own life.” Extolled Dr Balakrishnan
The conversation for the night then moved from Dr Balakrishnan’s stint as a NUSSU president to the minister’s thoughts on the challenges that will face the current generation of university students.
“In the year 2012, we live in a very different world from 1980. Today, Singapore is a developed nation…today, we are also in the midst of plenty, which is why you see reports saying Singapore’s per capita income is high, our intakes to university is high and growing, and our healthcare is amongst the top in the world. So you are in a situation where we are already a developed country and the challenges facing you in trying to rise even higher will paradoxically be more difficult, because you are already quite high up the mountain and that final ascent up the summit will be much steeper.” Said Dr Balakrishnan as he counseled the gathered audience on why that the zeitgeist of 2012 is vastly different from the time when he was a student in 1980.
Dr Balakrishnan then ended the night’s discussion by warning the students that the fruits of globalization are two fold; that with increased choices and connectivity also come with intense competition for jobs and limited resources on the global playing field.
“There are millions of graduates in Asia – all of them as smart as you, as hardworking as you and as hungry as you. So how will you create a future that is viable, worthwhile, fulfilling; and for you in twenty or thirty years, to come here and speak to the next generation and say this is my journey, this is what I have gained, these are the lessons of life I have learnt and these were the choices I made.”