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Positioning, focus of 6th university called into question

SINGAPORE — With the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) set to be the sixth autonomous university here, several Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday raised some areas of concern about how the institution would be positioned. Issues raised included whether it would see sustained demand, and whether a niche in social sciences would affect the standing of non-related disciplines.

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Singapore

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SINGAPORE — With the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) set to be the sixth autonomous university here, several Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday raised some areas of concern about how the institution would be positioned. Issues raised included whether it would see sustained demand, and whether a niche in social sciences would affect the standing of non-related disciplines.

About 10 MPs spoke in Parliament on the second reading of the Bill to set up the university, before it was passed yesterday. It was previously announced that SIM University (UniSIM) would be restructured and renamed to become SUSS.

While there may be a demand for more family and criminal lawyers, early childhood practitioners and specialists in Singapore, MP Desmond Choo wondered if an investment in disciplines with a strong social focus would hinder one from being “nimble” when industry requirements change in future.

In response, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said this is not something to worry about, as long as the Singapore economy remains diverse and vibrant. For instance, successful tech companies do not just hire coders and engineers, but also need to draw on a pool of anthropologists, psychologists and other social scientists, he said.

Addressing fears that the business and engineering programmes at SUSS would lose their prestige or recognition, Mr Ong said it is common for universities to “offer quality programmes beyond what their names imply”.

He likened it to how the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) offers arts and social science disciplines. Or how the London School of Economics and Political Science offers law, international relations and accountancy.

As part of its focus on applied learning, SUSS will retain and develop its existing strong culture in service learning, and expand its offering of professional development programmes, which are not always at the degree level. SUSS has already introduced around 200 of such modular courses, Mr Ong said.

Calling it not just a “simple renaming but a significant reorientation” of Singapore’s leading private university catering to adult education, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh fretted about how the higher education field would evolve into six “silo” universities, “all functionally differentiated” and each becoming a “great echo chamber in itself”, leading to fewer collaborations with each other and less competition of ideas.

Acknowledging this, Mr Ong said while big universities such as NTU and the National University of Singapore have less incentive to have inter-university collaboration, smaller universities such as the Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design have a “strong motivation” to do so.

Responding to questions from MPs Fatimah Lateef and Saktiandi Supaat on whether entry requirements would change, Mr Ong said that SUSS takes into account not just academic grades, but also career accomplishments and experience.

Associate Professor Fatimah also asked if students at SUSS would have access to the same scholarships, bursaries and study awards as the other autonomous universities, while MP Louis Ng wanted to know if programme fees would be cut.

Mr Ong said a major change in the level of subsidised fees is not expected, given that there is the availability of Government-supported financial aid schemes, including bursaries and study loans.

On another matter concerning alumni, the university has arranged for degree certifications to be re-issued in SUSS’ name for them. Details on this will be released later.

 

 

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