Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Of talents and talent

PM Lee:

I went to Sydney, visited the University of New South Wales, because they are setting their university here. They asked me to give away some awards. So I went, I gave away the awards, I said: "What are these awards?'' They said: "These are awards given to the top poly students from Singapore who go to study at the University of New South Wales [laughter], donated by alumni from Singapore." And we have poly students there, I met them, they are all doing very well, bright, able, ambitious, and many opportunities open, and good for them. The vice-chancellor told me, we are happy to take them in as students, but we are even happier when they stay [laughter]. So I came back, I asked NUS and NTU: "Have you got any scholarships for top poly students?'' [laughter] They said: "We are getting them soon."

Let's examine the above closely. What can one learn from this account in the National Day Rally?
  1. Overseas universities recognize that there are bright, able, ambitious poly graduates and are happy to take them.
  2. Local universities didn't. They had to be prompted by the PM to offer scholarships to attract top poly students.
  3. There are people who are regarded as talents by people overseas but not by our local organizations.
  4. However, if you gain recognition for your talents overseas, you become a talent in the eyes of the Singapore government.
So, if these bright poly graduates had not ventured overseas to study in the first place, would NUS or NTU have thought about offering scholarships to top poly students? Suppose the vice-chancellor of UNSW hadn't told the PM about how happy he would be if the poly students stayed. How would the establishment have viewed the poly students?

Ironically, the head of the Singapore government has to be told about the value of his own people. So, in fact, the prospect of more people like the aforementioned poly graduates quitting has improved the treatment of poly graduates in Singapore when it comes to university admission. Hence, quitting isn't such a bad thing after all.

Let's go a bit further. Is it possible that there are local talents that the system fails to recognise or to develop? Ask yourself this question in the light of the push for more foreign talent.

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