More flexibility for students of the 87-year-old Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of National University of Singapore might prompt wags to ask what took it so long to be less rigid. In fairness, the school has grown much over the years - from offering just three majors once to 20 now. In its first major curriculum change in over a decade, it is allowing undergraduates to add breadth to their learning by taking fewer modules in their major in order to explore other subjects, including those offered by other faculties. Internships, which are growing in popularity, are also getting a boost.
Universities often preach innovation but are slow to practise it where curriculum and pedagogy are concerned. It generally takes various committees and ultimately a very high-powered one, like the Committee on University Education Pathways Beyond 2015 (which itself referred to the 2010 Economic Strategies Committee in charting a course), before substantial change is achieved.
Some outcomes of tertiary education might spur debate but there is general agreement that it is more than just a private good (that offers economic benefit to graduates and permits self-fulfilment). Though not a pure public good, there is enough reason for the nation to support the development of more graduates to help drive the future economy and make useful contributions across other wide spheres of activities.
More specifically, most would concur that a new generation of graduates must be able to discard a silo mentality as many real-world issues do not sit neatly within one domain. As much as depth is needed for specialists to keep on top of ever-growing fields of knowledge, the world cannot rely exclusively on narrow expertise to address issues it faces.
Climate change, migration, genomics, artificial intelligence, medical and unemployment insurance, and health management and disease control all require multi-disciplinary approaches to tease out the impact of these matters across borders and communities. And the pervasiveness of technology means it cannot be left in the hands of geeks alone, as the social dimensions are equally important.
Among arts and social science students, one would hope they will be able to help society think broadly about current issues by drawing from different schools of thought, cultures and histories with sufficient technological and scientific awareness to keep discussions sufficiently grounded on facts. Alongside the greater scope to pursue their areas of interest, universities ought to also help students to participate more actively in the learning process. That would involve not just working within groups but also interacting with a diverse range of fellow students, mentors and organisations. Breadth in thought ought to be matched in action as well.