Giving students more flexibility

The arts and social sciences have been around for a long time - 87 years in fact in the case of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

From humble beginnings with just three majors - English literature, geography and history - the faculty has grown to have 20 majors today, with newer offerings such as global studies.

Most NUS students decide to specialise in one subject, but in recent years, faculty officials have noticed that more are keen on pursuing a breadth of experiences, from taking a minor or second major to going on internships or overseas stints.

In its first major curriculum revision in over a decade, the faculty has given students more space to decide what they want to explore without having to delay graduation. They can now take fewer modules in their major, which can be replaced by modules outside their specialisation or faculty. More students can also earn credits for internships even if these are not directly related to their field of study.

And freshmen - 1,600 of them - will from this year take two compulsory modules in academic writing and public writing, to boost core skills in writing, expression and communication.

These changes are important, said Professor Brenda Yeoh, dean of the faculty, as it has to "continue to innovate to suit each generation".

And it hopes to cater to the aspirations of a younger generation who want to do more than be knowledgeable in one discipline, without compromising on any of its longstanding strengths in the flexibility, breadth and depth of curriculum.

Once seen as a last resort, the faculty of arts and social sciences - the largest at NUS in terms of undergraduate numbers - has in the last few years attracted students with more As and Bs.

This is encouraging, and the attention paid to training young people in the humanities and social sciences is essential at a time when Singapore, with the recently set up Social Science Research Council, is trying to build up a pool of researchers to tackle complex issues that do not fall neatly into a single discipline.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Giving students more flexibility'. Print Edition | Subscribe