Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Me to NTU: Find your sense of belonging

The NKF affair was a scandal that rocked the nation. No doubt, there was a lot of soul-searching both collectively and individually when news broke about how funds in the organization had been used contrary to public expectation. But recently there surfaced another example much closer to home. School abandonment.

On one hand, our dear NTU is making painful efforts with new initiatives to change the way things are done, to take care of the student’s welfare, allowing more openness and dialog between students, student bodies, faculty and administrators, launching new programmes, increasing exchange opportunities and expanding and overhauling curriculum.

There’s a huge task ahead, but we have to start somewhere.

And here on the other hand, is an apparently not-so-grateful beneficiary of the new GIP initiative, saying that since he was not legally bound, he was going to leave NTU for another institution which he felt he liked better and not pay the S$8,000 NTU sponsored to send him there as an exchange student.

Does “stayers and quitters” come to mind?

The justification he offers is wanting. “I was not legally bound by any contract.” But the heated reaction from his departure, like the public response to NKF, is a clear indication that he was not behaving according to expectation. And he himself admitted that he knew people would be unhappy too.

Free choice in education is something we all cherish, which is why this person could have gone there for his post-graduate studies.

I seriously think that when NTU subsidies a student it is making an investment in that students would be exposed to other types of academic environments and bring back new ideas, suggestions and mindsets. That’s where the gamble is. It’s not a gamble in the sense as one student put it – that students might jump ship when they’re abroad. I am quite sure nobody on the administrative side was expecting something so audacious.

And in case anyone’s a bit hazy it’s not about the money – when you go on exchange you are expected to be an ambassador of NTU, as well as getting experiences to share with others when you return, so that you can make a difference in NTU, no matter how intangible. Don’t make a difference by leaving.

But how is the committee that selects GIP students going to gauge loyalty? Frankly, it’s hard. It’s clear from this and many other numerous ‘scholarly bond-breaker’ cases that the types of students worshipped by our society, already obviously over-represented in exchange and scholarship opportunities, have excellent resumes but lack values. Maybe there’s a larger issue here – but let’s not go there yet.

There will always be bond-breakers, quitters, fair-weather friends and people who jump ship whenever they legally can. But let’s not just follow others’ footsteps and make NTU some company, a place you’d leave if you find greener grass. Because that’s not going to help in building an identity and sense of belonging to our university, which is something we’re still searching for and is so fundamental to NTU’s continued relevance.

You do want NTU to be around for at least the next 100 years right?

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