NTU introduces new core curriculum for 6,000 freshmen starting August

The initiatives better prepare students for a changing workforce. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Freshmen joining the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in the new academic year in August will take up a new common curriculum that spans a variety of subjects.

They will also need to complete internships in order to graduate.

These are among the initiatives that NTU laid out on Monday (Jan 25), as part of its plans for the next five years, to better prepare students for a changing workforce.

The core curriculum, which emphasises interdisciplinary skills, comprises seven modules covering topics such as digital literacy, communication and inquiry, ethics and global challenges.

The aim is to help students make connections between disciplines and prepare them for a world where complex challenges need to be tackled from different angles.

The revamped curricula starts with the 6,000 freshmen joining NTU in August - except those studying medicine and at the National Institute of Education.

These modules, which they will take across their first two years, makes up about a fifth of the overall academic workload.

Higher learning institutions have been making a greater push for students to see connections across disciplines.

In August, the National University of Singapore will enrol its first-year students into its new College of Humanities and Sciences, marking a shift from the traditional way of learning in separate disciplines.

Speaking to The Straits Times, NTU president Subra Suresh said that with the curricula overhaul, undergraduates will take classes alongside peers from other disciplines, and listen to a wider range of faculty members.

He cited the example of an engineer or computer science student who would naturally have coding and computer literacy expertise.

But he or she would also need to understand softer aspects, such as the ethics of computing, as well as privacy and confidentiality.

"An arts student will get to see a professor from mathematics, who will talk about data privacy... or may get an opportunity to meet and talk to an economics professor from the business school or somebody who does blockchain," said Professor Suresh.

"So it's that kind of serendipitous encounters that we want to foster at the undergraduate level."

The university degree that today's undergraduates leave with must be relevant for the changing times - it cannot be the same as the generations that came before them, said Prof Suresh.

"(Graduates) are going to have five to six decades of career where they not only have to continually change jobs, it's inevitable they're going to continually change professions," he added.

NTU will also widen its interdisciplinary offerings, with a new undergraduate major in economics and data science from August, and higher degree programmes in areas like neuroscience.

The increasing focus on interdisciplinarity also extends to staff, he said. NTU, which currently has some 1,450 faculty members, will in the next five years create joint positions across schools for existing and new staff.

"(This will impact) how we look at tenure, how we look at promotion, how we reward them, how we recognise their achievements," said Prof Suresh, noting that NTU has adopted broader evaluation methods in recent years.

"The criteria is much more holistic than numerical KPIs, how many papers you published. Ultimately, impact is what we care about, and impact can be defined in many different ways," he said.

"If you are a computer science professor and you haven't published something, but you've written a code that Facebook and Google and WeChat and all of these people use... it's impact," he added.

NTU hopes to give faculty "the freedom to move around in a much broader space", he said. "If we allow them to do that, they'll be much better teachers."

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