Yale-NUS courses ‘do not match’ students’ academic expectations

Lack of depth in modules, staffing issues among reasons for students dropping out
Published: 4:16 AM, June 8, 2015
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SINGAPORE — As the Republic’s first liberal arts college prepares for its third intake this August, some former Yale-NUS College students have decided to drop out because of a mismatch between the college’s offerings and their academic expectations.

Of the college’s 330 students, about 3 per cent have chosen to leave, some for other top universities and some to pursue specialised degree courses, said the school. Some students who left also told TODAY they felt the courses, in covering a broad range of subjects, did not go into their preferred level of depth.

The college welcomed its first intake in 2013. Ms Lichie Nazirah Nwaozuzu, 22, who enrolled in a double degree programme in law and liberal arts, later chose to focus only on her law degree.

All first-year students are required to cover a range of Common Curriculum courses such as philosophy, English literature and scientific enquiry, but Ms Nwaozuzu, who was part of the inaugural cohort, said it felt too “touch-and-go” and dropped out after her first semester.

For instance, the course outline for her philosophy class required them to read a book by Plato but students were only assigned to read four chapters in the book that were discussed over two weeks, said Ms Nwaozuzu, now a second-year law student at National University of Singapore (NUS).

“In essence we covered a lot of material but we never really went in depth for each of them and I guess that’s the nature of liberal arts, so to speak. It wasn’t as meaningful for me as it was for a lot of the other students,” said Ms Nwaozuzu.

Responding to queries from TODAY, a Yale-NUS spokesperson said liberal arts education emphasises broad-based, multidisciplinary learning as well as depth of study. In the first two years of college, all students take Common Curriculum courses that provide an introduction to broadly-defined areas of inquiry rather than in-depth coverage.

“In their third year of studies, students can select one of the 14 majors we offer and explore the subject in-depth while adding the knowledge gleaned from the Common Curriculum to augment the learning experience,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Nwaozuzu also said while it might have been the intention of the college to provide broader insights to a subject, for instance, by getting historians or sociologists to teach literature, this approach did not provide the academic expertise and rigour she was looking for.

Similarly, Mr Rocco Hu, 23, who left Yale-NUS after his third semester, said the discussions-based, seminar-style classes did not provide the deep academic expertise he was hoping for. The college’s spokesperson said classes are conducted in the style of an “intimate seminar” to emphasise discussion and debate.

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