AsianScientist (Jun. 17, 2016) – The first time Vivegan Visvalimgam applied to medical school, they rejected him. He was crushed. He decided to apply a second time, during National Service, to another medical school. They rejected him too.
Refusing to let go of his dream, he applied a third time and got onto the wait list. But weeks flew by without a word from the university, and by then, freshmen orientation had already begun. Just when he was about to give up hope, he received the phone call of acceptance while at work on his army camp’s firing range.
“I was so happy I called my sister and nearly broke down in tears,” said the 23-year-old Visvalimgam, who is now a second-year student at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCSoM) at Nanyang Technological University.
Visvalimgam is one of many young Singaporeans hoping to pursue a career in medicine and law, which are highly sought-after degrees across Asia. In 2013, over 800 A-level and diploma holders applied to LKCSoM for the 50 available places the school offered in its first year. The Ministry of Law estimates that the total number of Singaporeans studying law in the United Kingdom has more than doubled to 1,142 between 2010 and 2013.
This begs the question: why are law and medicine degrees so popular in Singapore?
Excellence, hard work, and nothing less
Yale law professor Amy Chua famously coined the term ‘Tiger Mother’ in her 2011 book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, describing a strict disciplinarian Asian parent and her two daughters. In Singapore, Tiger parents are not unheard of—a study last year by local newspaper The Straits Times found that seven in ten families send their children off for tuition, some from as early as pre-school. The most common reasons for tuition were to ensure that their children keep up with their peers and to improve their grades.
While parental pressure might not be the direct reason for someone to choose law or medicine, most children in Singapore are conditioned for excellence, and that often translates into these two highly competitive courses that require near-perfect grades for entry.
The perennially high demand for medicine and law degrees suggests that students don’t shy away from the rigor—in fact, some are attracted by it.
“The challenge is what really drew me to a law career,” said Lee Pei Pei, a second-year law undergraduate at Singapore Management University. “I love the novelty in each case that I come across, especially in criminal and family law.”
Frederick Leung, a senior education researcher from Hong Kong, explained that Asian children are often instilled with a Confucian emphasis on effort as opposed to natural talent.
“There is a very different kind of pleasure, a sense of achievement that can be obtained after a period of hard work,” said Leung. NEXT PAGE >>>