Amid a rapidly changing tertiary education landscape — and one that is increasingly competitive as new entrants join the fray — the republic’s oldest university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), is set to undergo a curriculum revamp.
The move comes a year after Nanyang Technological University (NTU) raised its game by overhauling its curriculum.
Today understands that the Singapore Management University (SMU) — which was the newest addition as a public-funded university until this year, when the Singapore University of Technology and Design took in its first batch of students — is also looking to change its curriculum, as part of its regular review, to place more emphasis on out-of-classroom experience.
For NUS, changes are in the pipeline for its 10-year-old General Education framework.
Currently, NUS undergraduates are required to take eight General Education modules throughout their university education.
They can choose from a wide range of modules, such as Government and Politics of Singapore and Food Security and Safety. The undergraduates’ scores for the academic work in these modules contribute to their overall Cumulative Point Average.
NUS is now looking at introducing a structured programme targeted at developing specific skills, the NUS Provost, Professor Tan Eng Chye, said in a blog entry on Tuesday.
A cross-faculty taskforce has been formed to review the university’s General Education requirements. Tan told Today the proposed programme “sharpens emphasis on developing multi- and interdisciplinary perspectives as well as important career-relevant competencies such as critical thinking and reflection, communication skills and team work”.
The university is also considering the idea of a “grade-free semester” for General Education, to give freshmen time to adjust to a new learning mode that involves an “educationally disruptive” experience, Tan said on his blog.
He added that he felt the current NUS system — which he described as “generally flexible enough to allow students to pursue depth and breadth, according to their interests and aptitude” is “not ideal”.
Which was why NUS had introduced a new compulsory module in writing and communications for all its students. This will be implemented over the next three years.
Prior to this, an NUS undergraduate could “select modules that would allow him/her to go through university without completing any modules in writing, presentations or statistics”, Tan noted.
A new breed of graduates
As part of NTU’s curriculum revamp last year, its students are required to take 30 per cent of courses from non-core disciplines. NTU Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education) Kam Chan Hin said the students are already reaping the rewards, with a larger variety of courses to choose from.
“Students also pursue fewer modules, which gives them more time for collaborative learning and self-reflection,” he said.
“They also have greater flexibility to design their curriculum according to their interests and strengths.”
An SMU spokesman said it is in the midst of “a comprehensive review of our undergraduate programmes to augment key aspects of our curriculum across all six SMU schools, from course offerings to Co-Curricular Activities”. He added that the curriculum is reviewed annually.
SMU faculty members felt that for the current exercise, a large-scale review would be timely — given the changes in the university landscape here and abroad.
In August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore will have two more universities — the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the SIM University (UniSIM) — bringing the total number of national universities to six.
By 2020, 40 per cent of each school-going cohort will be able to have a university education, higher than the current 27 per cent.
Observers Today spoke to said the curriculum reviews were timely as the universities’ primary role evolve from imparting knowledge to developing graduates who possess strong interpersonal skills at the workplace.
Choa Chu Kang GRC member of Parliament Low Yen Ling, who sat on the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015, said the universities also have a part to play in creating a “change-ready” mindset among youths.
Another committee member, Pioneer Junior College principal Tan-Kek Lee Yong, suggested that universities allow students to exercise greater autonomy and design their own learning pathways. Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, a public relations practitioner, added that universities here will increasingly need to produce graduates with distinct traits, so that they can stand out from their peers.