Mr Alex Lum Wee Shyong is one of the senior teachers in Victoria Junior College. He attained his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Minnesota in the USA followed by his Master of Arts at the National University of Singapore. A keen learner, who constantly makes the effort to enhance his intellectual prowess, Mr Lum attended a short course in Oxford recently. The Victorian Press sat down with him to find out more about the short course he attended in Oxford as well as his views about overseas education.
Mr Lum’s stay in London was exactly 10 weeks, from 21 January to 31 March. During his stay, he attended a course conducted by Dr Richard Good Smethurst in Oxford University where for five weeks, they held various discussions on the different aspects of microeconomics and macroeconomics. It included the European Union; Credit Crunch crisis, which he described as topics that were relatively new to him. There were a total of 25 students who came from different backgrounds. Some were Companies owners/ CEOs who wanted to have more knowledge about economics, a handful were accountants by trade, and there was even a life science professor from Oxford University. A couple of students were from Spain but most were from Britain.
Mr Lum described himself as very particular about learning from certain people who have good research background. Eight months prior to the course, he actually went to Google the professor of the course before deciding to enroll.
“Dr Richard has a lot of experience, not only in the general teaching of economics” Mr Lum recounted, “ He has held many positions in Oxford University and other aspects and was even once a part-time economic advisor to Her Majesty’s Treasury 1969-71 and part-time policy advisor to the Prime Minister’s policy unit 1975-76. Because of this, he was able to bring in a lot of valuable real life experience in his teaching. For example, when it came to macro-economics, he was able to bring in a lot of his work and policies as a policy advisor to the Prime Minister. It was very inspiring to hear such real evidence from such a knowledgeable person”.
“Oxford University is viewed as one of the best Universities around in the world, so was your experience there really as great as what it is imagined to be by many?” This was one of the questions which we posted to Mr Lum and he responded by saying that he felt that Oxford is a good university. To him, the prestige of a university really do depends on the diversity students there. For instance, he shared that the teaching and content that the Dr Richard brought to class was minimal. On the first day when he gave out the course outline, as responsible students, they were supposed to have done some self-reading beforehand. Based on their background readings and when Dr Richard facilitates the lesson, it became quite obvious that the diversity of the various members of the class actually strengthened the learning progress in the class. It is not solely about the reputation of the professor who transmits information as it is also about the quality of the different perspectives that the students bring to class such as their views or understanding of issues. The lecturer would then give his input on where the views could be angled according to certain concepts, economics in this case. He concluded that whether it is a very prestigious university or a highly reputable one, the quality of education that one receives also depends on the diversity of students as reflected in Oxford or Cambridge university.
Well, if you are thinking that Mr Lum spent all his time studying and attending lectures in Oxford university you are wrong. In fact, he travelled frequently to London which he described as his other base. According to Mr Lum, he did not stay in Oxford because Oxford is quite a boring town after 5pm so he was in London for most of the time. He proudly shared that he spent a lot of time exploring the many nice and interesting museums in London. He even attended five musicals (Madame Butterfly, Matilda etc) and watched four exciting soccer matches (where Arsenal played against other teams).
“I did a lot of trekking and walking to parks and canals where few tourists would venture into and just by doing this, I gained deeper insight into the life the locals led. I think that this is a better choice of spending my time there than just doing shopping and shopping as I have been to London previously.” Mr Lum said.
Overall, he tried to maintain a balance between studying and relaxing. In the day, he would attend lectures while at night, he would engage in recreational activities as mentioned above.
For students considering to study in the UK, this is what Mr Lum has to share.
“If you are going to be staying off campus, you can be paying 1000-1300 pounds a month on accommodation which is equivalent to 2000-2600 SGD. Eating out in Oxford and London can be very expensive too, an average meal can amount to 15 pounds( 30SGD). “
He recommends buying groceries from supermarkets and consuming home-cooked food as by doing so, the cost of eating would definitely be cheaper and even cheaper than in Singapore. He narrated a couple of examples and one of which included Haagen-Dazs ice-cream, a popular but expensive ice-cream brand in Singapore.
For instance, Haagen-Dazs is about $13 in Singapore and yet one can have the same Haagen-Dazs for just $5 in London. Also, vegetables and fruits in Singapore may cost $6 and $4 in Singapore respectively but they are sold for around $2 cheaper there.
When asked to share some tips he has for potential students who are thinking of studying in United Kingdom or United States of America, Mr Lum offered valuable advice based on his rich experience.
“I think you really need to consider your needs and wants. Don’t just apply to a university based on its’ ranking and reputation. You have to look at what area of your study that you are interested in and not just apply to a particular university just because it has very high ranking points.” Mr Lum expressed, “For example, if you are thinking of studying Engineering, you should not be looking at Oxford because Oxford does not have the strength in Engineering. You might consider other universities like Imperial College. If you are going to do the arts, philosophy or even Economics, then Oxford is a good choice. Well, there are certain subjects which the Oxbridge universities may not do well in. There are actually rankings of schools for the different subjects, so you should explore them besides the overall university ranking before applying to any university”.
It was an inspiring and heart-warming session with Mr Lum as not only were we able to gain a better understanding of University education but also learn more about his brilliant pursuit of education. He believes in constantly upgrading himself, in this case, his knowledge, so as to better serve the school as a teacher. As students, he is indeed a role model for us to look up to.
Hui Ying 15S53