Raffles: A different ‘style’ of Education

Raffles: A different ‘style’ of Education

By Amana Iflal

Photography by Kevin Michael

Situated in Colombo Raffles has established a reputation for design and business in Sri Lanka. Since establishing its first college in Singapore in 1990, Raffles has grown to operate 30 colleges and universities in 29 cities across 13 countries. Their flexible inter-school transfer scheme allows students to study at any of Raffles’ network of colleges and universities, immerse themselves in different cultures and experience living overseas. Students who are enrolled in Raffles benefit from a quality education with a well-rounded hands-on experience relevant to the industry. This enables them to improve their career opportunities. 

Wanting to know more about Raffles I sat down with the college director of Raffles Johannes Silaban, Marketing Manager Nimesh Palihawadana and Assistant Manager of student recruitment Rihan Ahmed to ask a few questions about what Raffles is, what their new degree program is about and their upcoming Open Day.

Q- So give us a basic introduction about Raffles for those who aren’t very familiar with the institution.

Johannes – Basically Raffles is a higher education institution and it’s for students who are after O Levels and A levels. We offer programs for them to do here and even in Singapore we're associated with design, mainly fashion design, graphic design, interior design and multimedia design because that’s what we do. 

How we do things at Raffles is very different, because usually in other places the lecturers give the theory, give the students homework and that’s it but at Raffles 80% to 85% of the program is based on practical’s and our aim is actually to prepare all our students for the real world out there. There are lots of places in Sri Lanka and the world where they do their degree and they get the certificate and that’s it, but when they start work they don’t know how to cope with the working environment. It’s so different on campus and it there in the real world but the way we teach them at Raffles is that we get them used to following deadlines and there’s a penalty if you don’t stick to those deadlines. Out there if you don’t submit your projects to your client on time there’s obviously going to be a penalty and we get our students used to that so they don’t get stuck when they have to work on real projects. 

We cultivate that culture with the students here at Raffles. Our lecturers are very strict and for example there’s a program for fashion sketching and the homework is that you do one hundred sketches per week and if you only give ninety the lecturer will ask you to complete the rest during the day and if you don’t there’s a penalty. So basically they get used to the load and the consequences and they don’t get stuck after they leave campus. Our program is for two years, actually its three years but we compress into two years and it’s to get them used to the load and pressure of the working environment. In my experience I’ve had clients who have come at eleven or twelve in the night and they don’t like something in the proposal they want it changed by eight the next morning and what can I say? It’s a client and you need to pitch the client because it’s easy for the client to find other people to work with. In the end we expect by the time they’re done that they’re equipped for the real world.

Q- I was told that there was a new degree program. Can you just brief us on it?

Johannes - Ok so previously we only had the diploma and advanced diploma and we realized that there are some standards that are expected by students and that’s why you need a bachelor’s degree. We already believe our graduates will manage with the advanced diploma but we wanted to give them something that will help them as a weapon for them to go out into the industry and that’s why we introduced this bachelor’s degree. With this degree we’re really focusing on additional theoretical parts and they have really big projects as well that will go on for nine months or so and it’s going be a harder and escalated version of that the students had to do in their advanced diploma. We want their skill sets to be complete and they need all these skills. Even after that they want their master’s degree but with a bachelor’s degree there are so many opportunities that will be opened up for the students as there are places where even to intern you need a bachelor’s degree. And because we care about our students and we think about their life beyond this campus we introduced this new degree program. 

Q –So can anyone and everyone do this program? Or does it have to be someone who has done their advanced diploma at Raffles itself?

Johannes - Yes anyone can do this third year degree program but it’s better that they do the Raffles diploma programme before they do this because we need to see what their level is and how their practical skills are because we don’t know how they’ve done work in other places. Otherwise the student will struggle if they don’t know the basics to do the degree. And this degree is recognized by the Malaysian government which means the standards of this degree is very high. 

Nimesh – Also it has to be someone who has to have the passion for designing and maybe after O Levels or A levels and all they need to have is five credit passes to join us. After doing the two years with us depending on their interest and commitment they can decide to go onto their third year as well. You can be qualified designer not only in Sri Lanka but internationally as well and like Johannes said we’re not just giving you a piece of paper saying that you’ve completed your degrees but were also equipping you with the right set of life skills needed to work in the real world. I mean design isn’t like the other professions where there are set procedures you must follow and a certain way you do things. Design is spontaneous.

Q – You mentioned that you were planning on having an open day. Can you give me details on that? And what’s your target audience for that particular day?

Nimesh – So basically we’re having the open day on the 28th of December at Raffles Colombo and it’s for any and all design enthusiasts. It’s mainly for people who want to join Raffles but also it can be for student’s parents who want to see what their children do at Raffles and the projects they’ve done. We’re not focusing on a particular set of people because it’s open to the public to give the general public awareness about a career in design. It’s basically for the public to know about the life of a modern day designer. The students will also be able to exhibit their work at the open day.

Johannes – Also there’s going to be a workshop and lots of competitions that they can take part in. now you may ask why there are competitions and the answer is that it’s to so people can see what they’re capable of. We encourage healthy competition amongst our students while also encouraging them to help their friends and not only concentrate on themselves because they want to qualify more or anything like that. So at the open day this there will be a workshop on the competition that will be done and there will also be a winner becausewe believe that you have to be rewarded for the work you do and if you’re not it’svery unfair.

Rihan – Competition isn’t too technical at Raffles. To not award a student for being outstanding is unfair on them because if you have a student that is lazy and doesn’t do work and we treat all the students the same then it’s unfair to the students who are actually dedicated to their work and even the sketches they don’t have to be too complicated and if the sketch tells a story and it can the most simplest sketch as long as it follows the rules. 

Q- Ok so I have one last question. Do you have anything to say to the readers? Any message you would like to convey?

Johannes – My message would be that to do designing one must have the interest and you must be ready to do hard work because if you don’t work for it you can’t expect to get rewards from it.  In my experience I mean im a color blind person, im proudly saying this, and working as a multimedia designer who has to work with lots of colors this could’ve caused an issue but this didn’t stop me because I was dedicated and committed to what I was doing. Talent doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have interest or dedication. It all depends on whether you can give your one hundred percent all the time. So basically everything depends on commitment and hard work.

Nimesh- Basically to elaborate on what he said hard work and commitment have to go hand in hand when you do designing. Designing opens a lot of opportunities for people. And the key aspects of designing are knowing how to solve problems and to conquer obstacles that might come in your way. And this will help you build up your own brand like one of our alumni Ms. Jameel who owns the brand Jezza. Raffles loves to be the foundation of what students build their careers on and to be an inspiration to all students alike. Basically don’t give up on your dreams because if you’re committed you can make it!

Rihan – Most of the public think that when it comes to fashion designing it’s just modelling and drawing and that’s the wrong perception that public have and basically what we’re doing is working to change that perception and to show that designing is actually a very good career choice. And here at Raffles we give individual attention to every student even to the extent of teaching them how to hold a pencil when they draw and the fact that we have a mix of foreign and local lecturers mean that the students get the local and international exposure. And we take the students out on site trips and sometimes they’re working backstage at shows and this way they build up a network of contacts that can be used when they finish all their degrees. So basically Raffles teaches a way of life and not only focuses on design

Student Testimony by Hasanjalee Gunawardhene 

"When I finished my exams I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do but after I joined Raffles it became clear that Interior Designing is what I was passionate about and this is one of the best choices I made in my life. A students life is very fun at Raffles and we celebrate Avurudu and take part for Eat Street Colombo and various other extracurricular activities as well. It’s a great once in a lifetime experience to meet new people learn new concepts and basically connect with everyone. The lecturers are all great and we all feel very comfortable and it’s a very fun environment. I love it here!" 

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