But it remains to be seen if degree-chasing Singaporeans will take heed

Tan Kin Lian is the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NTUC Income and a 2011 Presidential Election candidate.

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He also founded and runs a website about “insurance, investment and financial planning and social issues in Singapore”. He recently published a short blog post on the same website on 5 April, about university degrees and Singaporean students.

Interest piqued? Here is a quick summary of what he said:

1. Main idea

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But please don’t pop the champagne just yet. Tan hasn’t even started.

2. Quick background information

Tan Kin Lian was educated at Raffles Institution and was one of the top students in Secondary 4. He also emerged as one of the top 10 students at the national School Cambridge Examination (something like the ‘O’ Levels).


3. Work + Study

Tan originally planned to start working after completing his School Cambridge Examination. However, his principal called him into his office and asked why Tan did not plan to go to university. He even offered Tan a bursary if financial difficulties were the obstacle.

Tan said that he had to work in order to support his family. However, he would also study part-time to try and qualify as an actuary.

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The principal eventually helped Tan get a job at a local insurance company as a clerk. Tan later moved on to another company to work as a computer programmer.

4. Casually becomes an accountant too

Tan passed his actuarial examinations over a ten-year period. Your thoughts now: “Wow, so long.”

Well, he said that he was “in no hurry” and even took time off his actuarial studies to qualify as a trained accountant as well.


Multi-tasking whiz.

5. Learns more than just hard facts

Who says that studying only gives you concrete facts? Tan proved that there are life lessons to be gleaned from the process as well.

#1: Be self-reliant:

Tan didn’t have a tutor or attend fancy tuition lessons. He studied on his own and made it just fine.

#2: Exams’ best kept secret:

Apparently, you only need to master 70% of the subject content to pass. Tan didn’t care whether it was a pass or a distinction. Students, take note!

#3: Understanding over correct answers:

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And nope, he did not memorise model answers to past year examination questions.

#4: Studying can be enjoyable:

Tan realised the usefulness and practicality of whatever he was studying. Such knowledge is not forgotten after the exam, but applied and used.

#5: Work in a related job:

Tan studied to become an actuary, and he also worked at a life insurance company. Since the two are related, Tan better understood the subjects he took.

6. He yaya-papaya a bit

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Good job.

7. The mandatory disclaimer

Tan warned that his self-study and DIY approach might not work for every student. However, he also urged us to consider his alternative and not simply brush it off as unfeasible or impossible.

He also learnt how to be humble. (But if you self-praise and say that you are humble, does that still make you a humble person?)

“One can learn from the working world as much as from university.”

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With reference to Tan Kin Lian & Associates