Interdisciplinary learning for new-generation jobs
Jobs have evolved, with technology and rapid digital disruption changing the future of work. An engineer producing electric vehicles must not only have technical knowledge, but also an eye for design and how new technology works.
An architect developing a net-zero energy building must not only understand aesthetics and design, but also green technology, data and artificial intelligence.
As job requirements change, the skills that workers need are also changing – paving the way for interdisciplinary learning where specialisation in a subject is accompanied by a broad range of relevant skills.
Recognising this trend for lateral learning to solve complex issues, NUS has restructured the curriculum of two faculties with converging skills.
Incoming freshmen to the NUS Faculty of Engineering (FOE) and the NUS School of Design and Environment (SDE) will read a new Common Curriculum that integrates knowledge and skills from both schools, starting from August 2021.
They will also be able to take courses from the two schools and across the university to develop competencies across different fields – enjoying greater choice, breadth and flexibility in their learning journeys.
“In our everyday life, we are witnessing a convergence of engineering and design – sleek smart phones and consumer electronics, electric vehicles, as well as current net-zero and emerging net-positive energy buildings, just to name a few,” said Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Senior Deputy President and Provost.
This means learning must be updated, “taking students out of their silos to embrace the intersection of different disciplines”, he added.
Students will then be able to prepare themselves for diverse career paths such as management consultancy, AI engineering, and med-tech entrepreneurship. Aspiring architects, industrial designers and built environment professionals will also be equipped with the latest skills to develop future-ready solutions.
What industry needs
The Common Curriculum was developed by a task force comprising 10 NUS academics and six industry leaders who provided the employers’ perspective on shaping the skills of the future workforce.
“There is great urgency in ensuring that we develop a more sustainable world,” said task force member Dr Cheong Koon Hean, a veteran urban planner and architect who is Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities and a member of the NUS Board of Trustees.
“We need a new generation of engineers, designers, urban planners, architects and built environment professionals who can work collaboratively across disciplines to find effective, integrated urban solutions that will secure and raise the living standards of Singaporeans and the global community.”
Commenting on the changing engineering landscape, task force member Mr Cheong Chee Hoo, Chief Executive Officer of DSO National Laboratories, noted that the new curriculum, designed in consultation with the industry, will “create stronger synergy and capabilities in our science and technology ecosystem”.
“Engineering is the key driver of innovation. I am confident and look forward to its graduates developing impactful technologies and solutions for the community and the nation,” he said.
Professor Wong Mun Summ, task force member and Co-Founding Director of award-winning architectural practice WOHA, observed that technology and issues such as climate change will shape the future of design and innovation.
“It is therefore timely that NUS introduces an integrated curriculum that allows SDE students, who are city-makers of tomorrow, to build bridges between design objectives, inspiration and technology,” said Prof Wong, who is also Professor in Practice at the NUS Department of Architecture.
“This, in time to come, can stimulate a fundamental mindset shift in the entire creative industry.”
Learning without silos
The new interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to be flexible to enable students to design their own degree and offer customised career paths to undergraduates.
Students require 40 modules to graduate, comprising:
- 15 modules in the Common Curriculum
- 6 General Education modules
- 7 modules imparting engineering-design interdisciplinary skills
- One Integrated Project which is equivalent to 2 modules
- 15 modules in the selected major
- 10 modules as Unrestricted Electives, where students could use to increase depth in their selected specialisation or breadth by pursuing a second major, minor or courses of their interest.
For instance, an engineering student may choose to major in Civil Engineering as well as pursue a minor in Project Management and another minor in Architectural Studies, and complete the Bachelor’s degree in four years.
“This is a great opportunity to reimagine engineering education to nurture engineers who can go ‘broad’ and ‘deep’,” noted Professor Aaron Thean, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Engineering. Prof Thean is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and one of the National Research Foundation’s Returning Singaporean Scientists.
Currently, doing a second major or a minor across disciplines is only done by a small group of engineering students. “With the new curriculum structure, we are making such ‘hybrid’ training accessible to more students,” said Prof Thean.
Professor Lam Khee Poh, Dean of the NUS School of Design and Environment, added, “To educate the next generation of professionals who will envision, create and manage a resilient city of tomorrow, we need to start imbuing the drive and attitude of interdisciplinary and collaborative learning at the undergraduate level.”
The unique partnership with FOE to broaden and enrich students’ learning experience will open doors to new opportunities, added Prof Lam, who is also Provost’s Chair Professor of Architecture and Building.