updated 9 Feb 2012, 12:01
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Mon, Feb 06, 2012
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Selling the idea of university to Junior

One day, my five-year-old son, Julian, came home from school and announced that he didn't want to go to university.

I panicked.

"Why not?" I asked him.

"When I grow up, I want to be the guy who stamps passports at the airport. And you don't have to go to university to do that," he replied.

I had to do a public-relations salvage job for tertiary education in front of him. And fast.

"Uh," I said, "But many people want to go to university. It's really fun and you get to learn and do whatever you want. It's called research. And you can make friends and join activities and, you know, do crazy student things."

"Like what?" he demanded.

"Like, um, going on exchange programmes, joining the chess club and...swimming," I concluded lamely. (In truth, I was such a complete nerd as an undergraduate, I didn't join any such activities.)

With impeccable logic, Julian sniffed and said that he could do all of those things without matriculating.

In the end, I appealed to his herd mentality - while paradoxically painting a picture of exclusivity.

I said: "Everybody wants to go to university. It's expensive, but people are willing to pay huge sums to go. And it's not easy to get in. Oh, no. You have to be really good before universities take you. Right, Jerlynn?"

I was addressing my domestic helper, who played along enthusiastically, telling him about college life in the Philippines.

In the end, we convinced him that, even if he decides on a career in immigration control, there are still merits in going to university - so as not to feel left out, if nothing else.

"Which university?", the boy wanted to know. I suggested that we look up the list of top 10 universities in the world and find one that he liked, then aim for that. He was pleased.

Later, however, relating the whole episode to a friend, I started wondering if I'm a university snob. After all, is it really necessary to drum into my child that it is essential to go to university?

There are many other paths in life that do not involve paying tuition fees, so why the hang-up about not having a degree?

I figured it goes back to how my parents had impressed upon me the desirability of graduating with honours.

As far back as I can remember, my mum and dad have supported academic pursuits, and encouraged my sibling and me to aim for a doctorate in any discipline we liked.

It was less a case of "get a law/medical/engineering degree, so that you can earn big bucks next time", and more that my parents hoped we would love learning and excel at what we chose.

My brother, 11 years my junior, is a history major on an exchange programme at a Canadian university.

I related to Ju how Uncle Alex has a nice time hiking in the mountains of Vancouver when he's done reading his textbooks. All the better to hammer home my point that university can be fun.

Recently, as we talked about how Chinese New Year was coming to a close and his red packet-collecting spell would be ending, I reminded my son that he had to save up his takings.

"For toys?" he asked, hopefully.

"No, for university fees," I replied.

"Oh, yes, that's right," came the unprotesting reply. Time to go check out those university- ranking charts.

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