NUS admits about 600 students via discretionary route as varsity seeks more diverse cohort

National University of Singapore (NUS) students walking in NUS University Town (UTown) on Oct, 11 2013. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
National University of Singapore (NUS) students walking in NUS University Town (UTown) on Oct, 11 2013. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Grades not the only criterion as varsity seeks more diverse cohort

One in 10 students made it into National University of Singapore (NUS) this year because he or she showed attributes such as leadership skills and excelled outside the classroom in areas such as sports and community work.

The university, which interviewed a record 1,200 students, admitted about 600 of them - close to 10 per cent of the 2014 cohort and the maximum number allowed by the Education Ministry under a discretionary admission scheme.

University vice-provost for undergraduate education Bernard Tan explained why NUS was going all out to get a more diverse mix of students.

"Being exposed to people with different perspectives and views not only enhances their education but also prepares them for working life, which often requires them to relate to a diverse group of people," he said.

The same principle applies in the extremely competitive medicine and law faculties.

While NUS did not provide figures, it said in recent years that the two faculties had accepted students from a wider range of junior colleges, and more from the polytechnics.

For instance, a record 10 polytechnic students were offered places in medicine this year, out of a cohort of 300. Another 10 made it into law, which admits 250 students yearly.

Associate Professor Marion Aw, assistant dean for education at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said: "Attributes such as compassion, empathy and ability to relate to people from all walks of life are important for those in health care.

"The broader admission process enables us to assess students better for these qualities."

Students applying to study medicine undergo a series of interviews to evaluate qualities such as empathy and teamwork, as well as how they make judgments in real-life scenarios.

Former Serangoon Junior College student Yeo Jia Zheng believes that despite his good A-level grades, it is the new admission process that landed him a place in medicine, as very few students from the lower-ranked junior colleges get in.

"Everyone has top grades, so I am glad that the multiple interviews allow you to show your other qualities," said the chatty and personable 19-year-old.

Ms Samantha Lek, 19, a Temasek Polytechnic student who was admitted into law, does volunteer work with young people now and hopes to become a community lawyer.

"Polytechnic students bring with them certain strengths and these don't always show on the results slip," said Ms Lek, who had top grades in the polytechnic.

Professor Tan stressed, however, that applicants considered through the discretionary process still need good grades. They may have fallen "behind by a few points", but interviews help highlight other qualities such as communication and leadership skills.

In addition to getting a more diverse mix of students through the discretionary admission scheme, the university also started offering two scholarships to attract students who excel in sports and the arts this year.

Six students were awarded sports scholarships, and three were given performing and visual arts scholarships. The awards cover tuition fees and living expenses, as well as co-fund short enrichment programmes.

Prof Tan said the awards are part of the university's efforts to broaden talent recognition, and are meant to spur the recipients to achieve greater heights in their sporting and artistic endeavours.

sandra@sph.com.sg