Seeking more flexibility

Visitors checking out the various courses available at the inaugural SkillsFuture roadshow. — The Straits Tmes/Asia News Network

While older, bigger universities in Singapore are stringent requiring students to declare their major at the start, those in the island’s newer and smaller varsities are allowed more time to decide on their specialisation.

SKILLSFUTURE and lifelong learning are now buzzwords in the higher education landscape, with universities revamping their courses to have bite-size offerings to cater to adult learners.

But at the undergraduate level, is there also enough flexibility built into the university curriculum to accommodate those who may have discovered new passions midway through their programme?

At a forum in March, Singapore Management University’s board of trustees’ chairman Ho Kwon Ping made a call for more flexibility in Singapore’s university system.

Given that most universities here follow the British system of requiring students to decide on their major when they apply to school, Singapore’s system has an “inbuilt inflexibility” that may not be productive for the economy, and students have to decide at too young an age what they want to do for the rest of their adult life, he pointed out.

In the American system however, students declare their major one or two years into their undergraduate programme.

Older, bigger universities such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are more stringent. However, two newer and smaller institutions that were established in collaboration with American counterparts - Yale-NUS College and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) – only require students to choose their course of study at the end of their first or second year.

Students at SUTD have to declare their specialisation only at the end of their first year, after taking common modules in subjects such as design, science and mathematics.

At Yale-NUS College, most students have to declare their majors only at the end of their second year.

SUTD’s director of admissions Lim Su Fang said that such an approach allows students to make more informed decisions. It is something that works well for SUTD, going by the number of students who change their minds about their course of study.

More than three in 10 students in SUTD’s past few cohorts end up choosing a specialisation at the end of their first year that differed from their initial preference when they applied to the school, said Lim.

There is greater flexibility at Yale-NUS College, where students are allowed to change their major up till the end of the second instructional week in their graduating year.

This is because major requirements make up only about a third of the Yale-NUS curriculum, said the university’s executive vice-president of academic affairs Steven Bernasek.

About a fifth of Yale-NUS’ pioneer batch of students who had to declare majors switched their majors, while eight percent of Yale-NUS’ current batch of graduating students who had to declare majors did the same.

It is a slightly different picture at NUS and NTU, where a smaller proportion of students successfully switched their course of study midway through their programme.

An average of 420 NTU students in each academic year have applied to change their major over the past few years. Out of these students, about 170 are successful in doing so every year.

At NUS, only about two percent of eligible students successfully changed their major or programme in the last academic year. Such applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Over the last two years, several faculties at NUS have revised their undergraduate curricula to allow students to pursue double-majors that allow them to pursue other interests without having to push back their graduation date, said NUS’ vice-provost of undergraduate education and student life Bernard Tan. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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Education , changing ajors , nus , ntu


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