Letters to the Editor
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THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION: NEW DIRECTIONS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The two keynote addresses, one from the Dean, Prof Tan Chor Chuan on the new curriculum and the other from Dr Wong Sze Tai, President of Alumni Association, on the future directions of the Alumni Association were good signposts into the immediate future.
In this issue, we publish Dr Wong’s keynote address on the new directions of the Alumni Association.
I would like to thank the Dean, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, for so kindly inviting me to speak on this occasion. It is a great honour and privilege for me to have the opportunity to address you and share with you some of the pressing issues confronting the Alumni Association and the new directions that it will have to consider taking as it enters the new millennium.
The Alumni Association will turn 76 years old tomorrow. I am happy to report that it is still fit and active as ever ministering to its members, the alma mater, the local community and the nation. With its long and illustrious history, the Alumni is looking ahead to face new challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.
While we can justly be proud of our heritage and achievements, we should, nevertheless, be vigilant and able to pick up early signs of trouble that would adversely affect our work and growth.
For some time now, a number of senior members of the Association have voiced concern about certain disturbing trends that could portend the decline of the Association and may even threaten its survival. Unless we start addressing these issues now we would have no hope of emulating the spirit of the alumni of top universities like Harvard and MIT. Let me first describe some of these trends before going on to how we can best tackle them in the new millennium.
Trend No. 1: Dwindling number of senior members using the medical centres
Recently, a senior member has voiced his disquiet about the diminishing lunch crowd in the Members’ Room at the Medical Centre and suggested that the Management Committee should organise interesting lunch talks once a month on a Saturday to attract the crowd back. I have great respect for this senior member for he normally would not raise the alarm without giving much thought to it.
What has gone wrong? There are many speculations as to why this trend has come about of late. The consensus seems to be that something is lacking to attract the members to come more frequently for lunch at the Medical Centre.
This is a real pity as the lunches in the Members’ Room are designed to provide the opportunity for members to interact and bond with one another. They also provide an opportunity for young doctors and medical students to meet their seniors in an informal setting so that they can exchange views, explore ideas, share experiences, acquire new knowledge and social skills, and derive inspiration, advice, opportunities for career development and good models worthy of emulation.
Trend No. 2: Declining number of new members joining the Alumni Association
What is alarming is the decline in the number of new members joining the Association over the last decade despite the fact that we have a new Medical Centre.
As shown in Table 1, there has been a big decline in the number of new members joining the Alumni, from a height of 139 in 1989 to 18 in 1998.
Trend No. 3: Reluctance of young graduates to join the Alumni
A special concern for the Alumni is the perception that young graduates nowadays are generally reluctant or disinterested to join the Alumni. If this were to go on, it would be bad for the Alumni. Already there is a distinct worry that the old guard cannot be expected to continue running the Association. An infusion of younger blood is needed to add vitality, new ideas, new leadership and a new image to the Alumni. This is an important issue as the Alumni’s chief concern is to remain relevant and responsive to the changes of time. To do this, it has to constantly renew itself and this can only be achieved by having more young members to join the Association and participate actively in it.
As can be seen in Table 1, young graduates below the age of 40 years make up the largest number of new members.
Over the last few years, there has been a marked decline in their numbers. This is a matter of great concern to us.
Trend No. 4: Substantial number of resignations per year
Looking at Table 2, we can see two peaks – one in the year 1990 and a smaller one in 1997. Both peaks coincided with the increased efforts by the Management Committee to collect arrears from members who have defaulted subscription payments for over a year. The number of resignations per year is not small compared to the new admissions. Last year, there was actually an excess of resignations over new admissions.
The surprising finding is that the resignations come mainly from the younger graduates. This is a worrisome trend that needs to be looked into.
Trend No. 5: Negative perception of the Alumni by young members
When the Management Committee tried to find out informally why so few young graduates are joining the Alumni and why some have actually resigned, the comments from the young doctors were quite negative. For example, they would say “We thought it was an old alumni’s club” or “The programmes don’t suit us”. Both of these comments are examples of the “push” factor repelling the young graduates away from the Alumni. Other feedback from the young graduates include comments like “What value do I get from joining?” or “I have other clubs to go to with better facilities than those of the Alumni”. The last two examples serve as the “pull” factor drawing the young graduates away from the Alumni. Be it the “push” or “pull” factor, the Alumni must address such negative perceptions vigorously in order to create the right environment to induce the young graduates to join the Alumni.
Well, so much about warning signs. Let me now turn to some speculations about why and how these threatening signs come about.
Speculations on why and how the declining trend in new memberships and the drop in participation in networking came about
The most plausible speculation is that the decline was brought about, to a considerable extent, by the shifting of the Medical Faculty and the King Edward VII Hall of Residence to Kent Ridge. Prior to that, the old Medical Centre at College Road was a popular meeting place for lecturers, professors and the dean from the Faculty. They went there for lunch or for professional/academic/business meetings or for informal socialising with their colleagues and friends. They were often joined by medical staff from the Singapore General Hospital and elsewhere. Even the medical students, particularly those from KE Hall, would sneak in to use the Medical Centre’s facilities free of charge. That was how many students got to know about the Alumni and became affiliated to it after their graduation.
We simply have to strive harder to foster closer ties and better bonding between the academia and the Alumni, and between the undergraduates and the Alumni, even though their locations are further apart now compared to before. We have to be more involved at a deeper and broader level than what we are doing at present with joint activities like the Orientation, the White Coat Ceremony, Graduate Tea Party and NUS Medical Society Excellence Awards. The Alumni looks forward to sharing an even closer and active working relationship with the Dean and with student leaders in the years ahead.
The Alumni Association Millennium Survey
In response to the aforesaid perceived threats to the Alumni’s survival and future growth, we have recently formed the Young Alumni Chapter that comprises of members aged 40 years and below. Our hope is that the Alumni Association, through the Young Alumni Chapter, will go through a process of renewal that will enlarge its base, strengthen its structure, enhance its performance and further satisfy the needs of our members.
In July this year, the Chapter undertook its first major project and successfully carried out a survey of a cohort of medical, dental and pharmacy graduates who have graduated over the last 10 years from 1989 to 1998. The aim of the survey was to gather data on their demographics, their needs, their values and interests, their perception of the Alumni Association and their reasons for joining and not joining the Alumni. The main findings of the survey are as follows:
1. Response Rate
More than 2,300 survey forms were mailed out. This represents close to 100% of the cohort. Slightly more than 250 responses were received. This amounts to a response rate of slightly over 10%. Although there are limitations due to non-response, the team of three postgraduates from the Dept of Social Work and Psychology whom we employed to analyse the responses, feel that the response rate is acceptable, and that the results obtained would enable the Alumni Association to draw statistically meaningful conclusions. 18.1% of the respondents are current members of the Alumni Association. The remaining 81.9% are non-members.
2. Awareness of the Alumni Association
86.4% of the respondents are aware of the Alumni Association. Most of them came to know about the Association through print materials.
3. Main reasons for joining
The reasons for joining are:
(a) for networking opportunities, and
(b) for participation in social, recreational and educational activities
4. Most popular facilities
They include the following:
(a) swimming pool
5. Least popular facilities
They include the following:
(b) Jackpot machines
6. Most popular activities
They include the following:
(b) gatherings (including class reunion)
(c) educational talks
(d) sea sports
7. What the Alumni Association should have
Apart from what have been listed under the headings of “most popular” facilities and activities, the respondents’ view is that the Alumni should also have the following:
(a) Activities tailored to the young members and their families
(b) Lounges and chatrooms
(c) Tennis courts, and
(d) Children’s pool/facilities
8. Main reasons for not joining
They include the following:
(a) Not aware of its existence (30.2%)
(b) Don’t see the need (20.3%)
(c) High admission fee (16.3%)
(d) Too busy to make use of facilities (14.5%)
9. Perceived strength of the Alumni Association
(a) Its long and distinguished history (37.9%)
(b) Provides good networking opportunities (22.5%)
10. Perceived weakness of the Alumni Association
(a) Insufficient publicity (35.3%)
(b) Activities are restricted and lack relevance (11.8%)
11. Main perception of the Alumni Association
The most frequent response is “It is mainly for senior alumni”.
12. How should the Alumni Association’s image be enhanced?
The more frequently given responses include:
(a) Have more and better publicity (35.4%)
(b) Create a younger image to increase accessibility/ attractiveness (23.8%)
13. How to attract new members?
The more frequently given responses include:
(a) Have more publicity (43.1%)
(b) Upgrade facilities and have more activities (27%)
(c) Recruit more younger members (9%)
14. Should the Alumni Association tie up with other associations, clubs and societies that share similar interests?
The majority (72.8%) of the respondents agreed that the Alumni Association should tie up with both local and foreign associations, clubs and societies that share similar interests.
15. Provision of social opportunities for young single members to interact eg. setting up a social introduction service.
The majority supported this. The respondents tend to perceive the following categories of professionals (in descending order) as forming the pool of potentials that should be invited to such a social introduction gathering:
(a) Medical, dental and pharmacy graduates
(b) Other graduates in the healthcare industry
(c) Graduates in other industries
16. Should the Alumni Association upgrade its facilities to that of a social or town club?
Most respondents answered “yes” to this question.
O 50.9% preferred membership fees to be less than $2000/-
O 38.5% preferred membership fees in the $2000/- to $5000/- bracket
O 34.6% preferred monthly subscription fees of under $20/-
O 37.7% preferred monthly subscription fees in the $20/- to $40/- range
17. Would you join if the Alumni Association has facilities similar to those of a social or town club?
O 48% answered “yes”
O 49% answered “Maybe”
Lastly, 83.3% of the respondents indicate that they would like to know more about the Alumni Association.
First strategy: Formation of the Young Alumni Chapter
Data from the Alumni Association’s database and the Millennium Survey has confirmed our observations and fears – that the number of graduates joining the Alumni is declining, and the bulk of the decline and resignations comes mainly from the young graduates. All this is rather bad news, but the survey data has given us new information to guide us on planning what new directions to take in future to overcome these problems.
On the positive side, the survey reveals that the great majority of young graduates want more information about the Alumni Association and that a substantial number of them will join the Alumni if it provides value. There is yet hope of a turn-around in the fortunes of the Alumni. That is why we have taken a bold step in forming the Young Alumni Chapter. Although this is new for us, it is not so with the alumni of the top universities in USA. A search in the Internet shows that the alumni of practically all the good universities in USA already have established their Young Alumni Chapter long before us.
Objectives of the Young Alumni Chapter
Its objectives are as follows:
O To increase the number of members
O To promote interaction among all members
O To cater to young members’ social needs
O To enhance alumni-university relationship
O To build rapport with students
Second strategy: Application of the “Michigan” model
The “Michigan” model
As regard its strategies for the new millennium, an adaptation of the University of Michigan Alumni Association model appears to be a useful option. Basically the “Michigan” Model segments its alumni into four categories defined by life stage, taking into account their age, family status, professional status, their needs, their interests and their means to participate (eg time, money etc). Its philosophy is that each category has its own features and needs, and that the services provided for each category have to be relevant, meaningful, value-added and tailored to their needs.
The four categories are:
1. Current students
Members of this group are largely concerned with graduation, employment and finances.
2. Alumni who have graduated 10 years or less
Members of this group are most interested in career development programming, finances and marriage.
3. Alumni who have graduated 11 to 30 years
Members of this group generally have children and are interested in information technology.
4. Mature alumni who have graduated 31 years or more ago
The members of this group generally have the most free time and are interested in a wide variety of subjects and seek to be exposed to new ideas.
The Alumni Association has taken its first step in forming the Young Alumni Chapter to cater to the undergraduates and young graduates who have graduated within the last 10 years. It will follow up the findings of the Millennium Survey and plan practical, value-added, meaningful programmes relevant to the needs of undergraduates and young graduates that will promote their active participation in the Alumni.
It should subsequently conduct surveys of the other categories of alumni and plan appropriate meaningful value-added services for each of these categories based on their needs.
Third strategy: Enhancing Alumni’s bond with the alma mater
The Alumni Association will have to intensify its efforts in promoting bonding with the undergraduates and the alma mater in the coming years.
Fourth strategy: Improving publicity and recruitment efforts
It needs to put in major efforts in publicity, recruitment of new members and stopping further resignations. At this point in time, I am pleased to announce that the Alumni Association has just introduced an attractive promotion package for new members. It includes the following:
O No entrance fee for the first year graduates
O $200/- entrance fee for the 2nd to 5th year graduates
O $350/- entrance fee for the 6th to 10th year graduates
O $500/- entrance fee for those who have graduated more than 10 years ago
Except for the last category, all the other categories’ entrance fees have been greatly reduced. The monthly subscription at present is only $12.50 per month. That is really cheap and great value for money. We are also in the process of working out a special category for the undergraduates.
Fifth strategy: Restructuring of the Alumni Association
Restructuring of the Alumni Association will have to go on to provide better and value-added service to its members. It should include the following:
O Making a major shift in the way it serves its members
O Developing a new philosophy in running the organisation
O Using different approaches to serve all age groups of alumni based on their needs.
O Creating value for its members
O Providing a customer-focused service
O Adopting a market-based approach, eg. competing with market forces for members’ and potential members’ time and money
O Looking outward and planning ahead
O Being flexible and able to adjust quickly to changing market needs.
Sixth strategy: Upgrading to a social or town club
The present Management Committee will soon be forming a special committee to study the feasibility of eventually upgrading the Association into a social or town club in our follow-up of the results of the Millennium Survey. This matter is of some importance to the Association as it has not been assured of its continuing use of the present premises after the next five years.
In summary, the New Directions for the New Millennium are:
O More focus on young members’ needs through the formation of the Young Alumni Chapter
O Foster closer relationship with the undergraduates
O Enhancing the alumni bond with the alma mater even further
O To adapt the “Michigan” model to better serve the other categories of members
O Improving publicity and recruitment efforts
O Conduct feasibility studies on upgrading the Alumni Association to a social or town club status
O Restructuring the Alumni Association towards a customer-focused organisation.
The strategies and projects that I have mentioned above will need several years at least to implement. The Alumni Association has one problem – ie. its Management Committee is required to change every year according to its constitution. The problem notwithstanding, let’s hope that the Alumni will achieve success in the new directions that it has set for itself for the coming years.
Thank you for your attention.
Dr Wong Sze Tai