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NUS unveils draft plans to set up combined College of Humanities and Sciences in 2021

SINGAPORE — The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Sept 22) unveiled preliminary plans to set up a new college for students admitted to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science, as part of its push for interdisciplinary learning.

NUS unveils draft plans to set up combined College of Humanities and Sciences in 2021

NUS said the proposed new college could accept its first cohort of students by August 2021.

  • Students admitted into the college would belong to both the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as well as the Faculty of Science
  • NUS proposes to admit its first cohort of 2,500 students to the new college by August 2021
  • Students will have the flexibility to customise their education by specialising in a field or build expertise in multiple subjects
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SINGAPORE — The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Sept 22) unveiled preliminary plans to set up a new college for students admitted to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science, as part of its push for interdisciplinary learning.

Students admitted to the proposed new College of Humanities and Sciences would belong to both faculties and could take up any major and minor programmes offered in the two faculties. This is based on a draft of the plans seen by TODAY.

The university proposes to admit its first cohort of 2,500 students into the college by as early as the next academic year, which begins in August 2021.

They will be able to choose from a four-year honours degree programme in either the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Social Sciences or Bachelor of Science.

TODAY learnt about the plans on Monday, when the university held a town-hall discussion with some faculty staff members to discuss the formation of the college.

In response to queries, NUS confirmed on Tuesday that it is carrying out preliminary consultations on the plans, but stressed that the proposal is still a work-in-progress and may evolve. “Details will be shared when the initiative receives approval,” a spokesperson said.

If the plans go ahead, the new interdisciplinary college will mark a shift from the university's traditional subject-based approach to one that is more broad-based and flexible, allowing students to take up classes from different disciplines.

The plan is for the change to be introduced incrementally, as students now enrolled in the two faculties will remain in their current programmes, a faculty member who attended a discussion on the plans told TODAY on condition of anonymity.

The university’s president Tan Eng Chye wrote about possible plans to overhaul its curriculum in an opinion piece for The Straits Times two weeks ago, when he called for the tearing down of subject silos at universities.

NUS, he said, must “radically transform itself” as its students will be graduating into a world of “wicked problems” that are ill-defined and “mutate all the time”.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Professor Tan said on Tuesday he is confident that the proposed college will equip students with market-relevant skills to thrive in the future economy.

“The rapid pace of change in many industries means that the old model of intense academic specialisation will no longer work for our young adults,” he said in an emailed statement. 

“Rather, graduates into the workforce will need breadth of knowledge, depth, as well as the ability to integrate multiple disciplines to solve complex problems.”

Under the proposal, students admitted into the college will have to enrol in 13 modules of common curriculum classes in the initial semesters, making up a third of their four-year education. The format is meant to equip students with foundational skills in literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.

These include new modules in artificial intelligence, design thinking as well as interdisciplinary modules on integrated social sciences and scientific inquiry to be developed by the college.

Students will have the flexibility to tailor their education according to their interests by specialising in a field or build expertise in multiple subjects, as interdisciplinary modules will be offered at all levels.

“Students who are passionate about disciplines that are perceived to be less market relevant (for example, philosophy, history, biological sciences), can pair it with a major or minor (specialisation) that is more widely recognised in the market. This will help them to access a wider range of job opportunities,” the draft of the plans read.

The college will also have a greater focus on problem-based teaching, which will require students to confront issues from different perspectives, unbounded by the confines of traditional disciplines.

Education experts interviewed by TODAY last week applauded the move towards interdisciplinary learning as a step in the right direction, though some noted the practical difficulties of balancing the breadth and depth of university education, especially for specialised fields such as medicine, law, architecture and nursing.

Professor Joanne Roberts, the executive vice-president of academic affairs at the Yale-NUS College — a partnership between Yale University and NUS that drew some controversy — had also remarked on the similarities between the proposed changes in Prof Tan’s commentary and the liberal arts college’s curriculum. Yale-NUS College welcomed its first intake in 2013.

Prof Tan said in his statement on Tuesday: “We are confident that students in this proposed NUS College of Humanities and Sciences will benefit greatly from the multiple and integrated perspectives to be brought into their flexible learning journey.”

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