The Asian Continental Course Convention

Today’s Asian students have much more freedom of choice than their predecessors in choosing their course of study at university- mainly because they are no longer under the looming parental pressure upon their shoulders.

Up till thirty years ago, anyone preparing to select their university degree would have been undoubtedly pushed towards a degree in medical sciences, law, or engineering. The Chinese proverb ‘simple labourers will not reach outstanding heights’ is often quoted, generally meaning that to break through to greater ambitions, one needs to be more than just a labourer- they must aim for the top of the hierarchy. For the past generations, this meant degrees that would lead to the prestigious and respect-worthy jobs that guarantees one the steady income for a stable future; for Generation X, it meant filling up university applications for degrees that would steer them to become doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Naturally, this later became the advice that Generation X passed down onto Generation Y, otherwise known as the millennials. While the advice still stands with good intentions in mind, the words hold less of an influence over the choices made now than it did back then.

In an online survey made specifically to explore this shift in thoughts, 25 millennials with 19 Asians in the mix responded with similar answers.

A noteworthy fact would be that all 25 selected their current course of study due to personal interest and passion in the subject, decisions made purely by themselves or under the guidance and advice of others. When asked about whether they were pushed towards the conventional courses by the people around them, there were more who answered yes than no. Marissa Chan- a first year international student pursuing her degree in Psychology at the University of Essex- said that a number of Asians she knew did not get to pursue their passions as they were not allowed to by their parents, instead having to go for degrees that would guarantee a stable future. “Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to pursue what I wanted to do. It’s not very fair for parents to prohibit their children from doing what they want.”

Joseph Wilmshurst who is studying a degree in Biomedical Science ay the University of Essex summed it up clearly with: “It is a misfire of support [with] and underlying sense of care, but this can put too much pressure on students to achieve something that may be out of their reach.”

But why are those STEM-based (science, technology, economics, mathematics) professions still seen as more ideal than those who pursue humanities or the creative field even in today’s society and workforce?

Arisya Dania, a Contemporary Music student in UCSI University from Malaysia says that “[the jobs are seen to] contribute to the society more than the art and humanities field”.

Sophia Alyssa Abdul Karim who is about to begin her degree in Communications in Sunway University Malaysia says: “Especially in the current economic struggle around the world, people prefer an academic degree that would grant them stability. STEM-based degrees provide this security and profitability which contributes not only to themselves but for businesses as well. Compared to those in Liberal Arts, people don’t seem to understand the same significance it carries to an individual, let alone to others. For the general public having to simply ‘read a book’ or ‘paint the sky’ is more of a past time than a ‘serious’ career. The benefit of guaranteed employment is not worth jeopardising over a volatile future.”

So is Generation X moving away from this long-held course convention?

68% of respondents answered ‘yes’ with the remaining still unsure if the shift is happening. Most say that as parents are becoming more open to having their child take up what they themselves are interested in, this convention is seeing its end. But why exactly are they more encouraging for their children to take the unconventional courses?

“Most parents are beginning to understand that their experience is not necessarily what their children will experience. They believe that their children will know the best course of action to go for, whether it is choosing a course or a university, and thus give them the freedom of choice to do so.” Says Wong Loo Yee, a Dietetics student from Iowa State University.

Amanda Sugiharto, a second year Pharmacy student from University College London says: “I think not all parents are [allowing a freedom of choice], but those that are usually in the workforce and understand that its scope is expanding based on seeing the degrees that their colleagues have, and from the people who come apply to their company.”

However, Yew Su Xuen who is pursuing a degree on Chemical Engineering from the University of Kansas noted that the process of moving away from this convention is still slow as “the market is still obsessed over technical degrees”. Leyla Yaltiligil, a first year Mathematics student in the University of Essex says that young adults are becoming far more independent as, especially in the UK, they recognise how difficult it is to succeed in the current economic climate so they are working hard for a better future.

Ultimately, there is a notable shift of thought: the workings of market demand and changes to views that society holds will play key roles in determining just how big of a scale the change will be.


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