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

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.

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.

The teething issues typical of new colleges, such as limited staffing and course offerings, were Mr Hu’s other reasons for switching school. For instance, he felt that the professors for his philosophy classes — a compulsory module for all first-years — appeared to be stretched thin.

“On top of that, a lot of them are junior faculty who are on tenure track but have not gotten tenure yet. So, they also need to publish research … go on sabbaticals … go on research leave — it creates a lot of pressure against adequate course offerings for upper-year undergraduates in the first batch,” said Mr Hu, who is starting his first semester at Oxford University in October reading philosophy, politics and economics.

“I can see this issue ironing itself out in subsequent years when everything stabilises, but I didn’t see it happening in the time span I was in the college … I just didn’t feel secure that my academic needs would be met.”

A Yale-NUS spokesperson said the college remains on track in its plans for a full team of 100 faculty members. There are now 70 faculty members although another 20 will be joining next month, she added.

They include key appointments such as Professor Steven L Bernasek, a renowned experimental chemist formerly from Princeton University, who will helm the college’s Division of Science, as well as distinguished anthropologists Prof Joseph S Alter and Prof Nicole Constable who will be joining the Social Sciences division.

The spokesperson also said its faculty-to-student ratio “remains healthy at 1:4”.

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