It is a privilege which I appreciate greatly as an undergraduate of Raffles College to address such a gathering as this. Our college has been the centre of no small controversy for some considerable time and I welcome this opportunity to place before you an aspect which has scarcely been touched upon by those who have broached the question of a university. I am not going to weary you with an account of the argument for or against it, and neither am I here to contend or defend the statement that a good diploma is better than a bad degree. I propose, however, to consider this question. Is education in Raffles College a good investment?
Ours is a highly commercialised city and we are wont to judge everything by materialistic standards – on a basis of $ and cts and £. There is therefore a very strong tendency among the people of this city to regard education solely as a means to making money. We are continually being asked, will college education enable a man to make more money than he would without it?
Statistics will show that so far it has. Up to date, there are altogether 190 men and women graduates. Of these 145 are in the educational service, 16 are in Government and Municipal services, 3 are employed by banking and commercial institutions and 12 are undergoing a post-graduate course in education. All these appointments carry a reasonably high salary and are made on the strength of the diploma. At present there is no unemployment among our graduates, but this happy state of affairs may not continue. The proportion of graduates to available posts is increasing. An enrollment of 112 students for the academic year 1936-37 has increased to 211 for the present year. So far the greater proportion of graduates have found employment in the Educational service, but it is estimated that, at the most, there would be vacancies for 39 men and women teachers for the next two years. The opening offered by Government and the Municipality are limited to a lucky few. So if the present rate of enrolment is maintained, and there is every reason to believe that it will be, graduates will have to turn to other sources for employment. The business section of this country is as yet wary in offering employment and, as far as possible, we are trying to adapt ourselves to the impending changes. The syllabus of the Economics department is so adapted as to provide a suitable background for responsible administrative and commercial work. We are quite aware that we are not acquainted with the details of trade but, given the same opportunity and practical training as European recruits, I should think we will make just as good successes as they. In fact, being born and bred here, I should say that we will find working conditions more congenial and less of a strain on nervous and physical energy which is often the complaint of the average European out here. We hope that the commercial world will not ignore this possible source of recruitment.
We are all agreed upon the general value of education and I am sure you will not contradict me when I say that after a three-year course at college, a student would be more fitted to deal with his fellowmen. One of the aims of a college education is to become a man through associating with men. We have five different student bodies whose chief activity is to invite men of distinction to become our guests for an evening and to talk on and discuss subjects which are of common interest. In this respect, like you Rotarians, we are fortunate in having a cosmopolitan population from which to choose our guests. The viewpoints of different races are thus made available.
The Governments of the Malay States have decided upon a course at Raffles College for their future administrative officers. The importance of this move cannot be over-emphasized. Close association with one another for at least three years will do much to promote a better understanding between the different communities. As almost every community is represented in the undergraduate body, I contend that Raffles College serves a most useful purpose in that it will not only maintain but enhance the racial harmony, which rightly is Malaya’s proud boast. You will see therefore, that it is not such a white elephant after all.
The cultural value of our College education is being questioned by some. The thesis of a paper read before our Literary & Dramatic Society not very long ago by a prominent member of your movement is this: No one can or ever will be able to read the literature of any nation unless he has a knowledge of the social background of that nation. This, to say the least, is a libel on mankind. It credits the human race with no intelligence. We might be interested in the society of a certain age or nation but that does not imply that one must actually come in contact with that society or age in order to understand what is written about it. If actual contact is required then it would be a waste of time for anyone to read about societies and the culture of peoples that are no more. I have stressed this point because, if what our learned visitor said that night is right, then our college will serve no useful purpose at all.
In reading literature, we are more concerned with underlying truths – truths that are universal and unchanging – rather than with the passing form and structure of any society of people.
The course at Raffles College provides for creative thinking. From a study of classics, poetry and history, to mention a few subjects, the student gets the raw materials from which he can evolve a philosophy to mould his future life. It is true that not all have the faculty or make-up to grasp the significance of everything studied but still the average undergraduate will find that whatever has to be studied is most of provocative thought. We do not believe in producing stereotypes and therefore originality is encouraged. Our tutors are just standbys and a student is left very much to himself to form his opinions. A large number of undergraduates read beyond the syllabus and go further into the deep things of life. All these indicate that, in the future, there will arise an intelligentsia class. The present state of culture, or more correctly its absence among the indigenous population of Malaya is deplorable, but I venture to predict that the next few decades will witness the beginnings of a Malayan culture. Its foundation is now being laid in Raffles College. This may sound too idealistic, but still there are concrete grounds on which to build such a ream. I ask you to take it as the conviction of one who has been in close association for three glorious years with that institution.
In conclusion, I have here a passage from Keith Briant’s “Oxford Limited.” Writing about one who has a college education, he says, “One thing is certain, that with £500 a year and a capacity for appreciation and developing interests, he will have more chance of extracting the best from life than the man with £50,000 who thought Oxford ‘a waste of time.’ For if he spent his three years well, he will have learnt the rudiments of the most difficult art of all – the art of living, and training in that vocation is worth more than three year of life and more than £49,500 a year.”
A Paper read to the Rotary Club by Lim Kim San (1937)