NUS launches new interdisciplinary College of Humanities and Sciences

Under the new system, a double degree can also be done within four years. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Dec 8) officially launched a new college that will bring together two of its oldest faculties - arts and social sciences, and science - and take in more than 2,000 undergraduates.

The College of Humanities and Sciences, which will admit its first cohort of students in August 2021, marks a major shift from the traditional way of learning in separate disciplines.

Both faculties date as far back as 1929, and will continue to operate separately.

Students will still graduate with a bachelor's honours degree in arts, social sciences or science within four years. But a key difference is that they will have to take 13 common modules in areas that cut across different fields of study, such as design thinking, artificial intelligence and scientific inquiry.

Students will spend a third of their overall curriculum on such modules, which will focus on the intellectual approaches and connections across disciplines. Other topics include Asian studies, computational thinking and community and engagement.

Students will also take two higher-level interdisciplinary modules of their choice. These aim to integrate knowledge across disciplines.

With this change, modules making up a student's major requirement will form one-third of the overall curriculum. This is lower than the current 50 per cent or more of the existing academic load.

Under the new system, a double degree can also be done within four years. Those who take up two majors from two different degree types will be awarded double degrees.

Currently, students usually have to extend their studies by a semester or a year to undertake such double degrees.

At a briefing on Tuesday, NUS president Tan Eng Chye said the new curriculum structure will give students more flexibility in carving out their own programme, as the workload for second major and minor requirements will also be lowered.

Students will be able to pursue any major as well as a second major from either faculty, or take a major-minor combination. More than 1,000 modules a year will be available for them to choose from.

Professor Tan noted that while there is interest from students to take up second majors or minors, only 15 per cent of those from both faculties currently do so.

College of Humanities and Sciences co-deans Robbie Goh (left) and Sun Yeneng (right) and NUS president Tan Eng Chye at the launch of the college on Dec 8, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

With greater room to choose what they want to pursue, the hope is that this will increase to 40 per cent to 50 per cent of students, he said.

Explaining the rationale for bringing both faculties together, Prof Tan said that universities have to recognise that the workplace is changing.

"Jobs have been destabilised in an uncertain, complex and volatile environment, and the work we do is becoming increasingly integrated. More than ever, the speed and intensity of technological processes are increasing and reinforced by Covid-19," he said.

"So the graduates of the future must be well prepared to navigate this new terrain and solve complex problems from multiple fronts. They need to not just work alongside one another, but with each other."

To allow students more flexibility across disciplines, the College of Humanities and Sciences will also offer three new cross-disciplinary degree programmes from next year, in data science and economics; environmental studies; and philosophy, politics and economics.

Citing examples like University Scholars Programme and Yale-NUS College, Prof Tan said: "In education, NUS has experimented with various initiatives over the past 20 years, and along the way, we have learnt and improved on them."

Now with the new college, interdisciplinary learning will be done on a larger scale, he added.

The college is the first in a pipeline of new undertakings by NUS to offer even more interdisciplinary experiences for students, he said.

Beyond the arts and social sciences, and science students, those from other faculties and schools will be able to "reap the benefits of interdisciplinary studies in the time ahead". He added that more details will be shared at a later date.

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