Service learning and greater flexibility for incoming undergraduates at NUS

About 7,000 incoming students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will now have the opportunity to contribute to community projects in a refreshed General Education curriculum which will give students a more holistic learning experience. Students applying to programmes in Engineering as well as Design and Environment will also benefit from enhanced, flexible, and student-centric pathways in the new academic year starting in August 2021.

Enhanced General Education Curriculum

The General Education (GE) curriculum, which was first introduced in 2001 and most recently revamped in 2015, is an important foundational component of NUS’ undergraduate curriculum. It aims to foster breadth of learning by preparing students to think deeply, ask critical questions, make logical inferences, and debate issues related to the diverse and changing cultural landscape. GE complements the regular academic curriculum, which helps students develop knowledge and abilities required in the specialisation of a particular discipline or profession.

As part of the university’s continual review of its offerings, NUS will be enhancing its GE curriculum with the introduction of a new pillar – Communities and Engagement.

Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Senior Deputy President and Provost, explained, “At NUS, our goal is to nurture our students to be all-rounded and well-grounded individuals who can lead positive changes in society. To grow social consciousness in our young leaders, we want every NUS student to experience a service element in their educational journey with us. It is therefore timely to introduce the Communities and Engagement pillar in our General Education curriculum to deepen social responsibility and social action among students through service learning.”

Under the Communities and Engagement pillar, NUS students will learn about project management, community asset mapping, people management, design thinking, and then put these principles into practice by participating in existing community engagement projects or designing their own projects to address issues such as climate change and environmental degradation, disadvantaged or marginalised groups, access to healthcare or education, caring for an ageing population, mental health and wellness, food sustainability, and more.

For example, the NUS Office of Student Affairs currently runs a community-based tutoring and mentoring programme where NUS students are trained to become mentors who serve as tutors, life coaches and role models to secondary school students. Students reading a module under the Communities and Engagement pillar could participate as a volunteer in this community programme and they could mentor youths through activities such as trips to museums, sports and arts activities, science experiments, and talks about time management and future aspirations.

The enhanced GE curriculum comprises:

  • Three pillars on ‘Generalist Core Competencies’
  • Two pillars on ‘21st Century Competencies’
  • One pillar on ‘Communities and Engagement’

All students (except those from Faculty of Law, Faculty of Dentistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Yale-NUS College) are required to read GE modules.

Please refer to Annex 1 for an overview of the new GE curriculum.

Greater choice, breadth and flexibility for students enrolling in Engineering as well as Design and Environment

In the new academic year, students enrolling in the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) as well as the School of Design and Environment (SDE) can seamlessly take courses from both schools to develop competencies across different fields. In this way, students in both schools get to enjoy greater choice, breadth and flexibility in charting their learning journeys.

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. Students who prefer the traditional professional tracks will continue to have the option of developing deep expertise in their chosen fields. The two schools are also paving the way for emergent subject combinations (such as Electrical Engineering and Industrial Design) that are not available now.

This is made possible through a significant restructuring of the undergraduate curricula of FOE and SDE. One key change is the introduction of a Common Curriculum that integrates knowledge and skillsets relevant to the professional training offered by both schools. Students from FOE and SDE (with the exception of Real Estate) will read the Common Curriculum.

Prof Ho said, “The FOE and SDE have a lot in common. In our everyday life for instance, 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 (such as SDE4 on NUS Kent Ridge campus), just to name a few.”

“Therefore, our training for engineers, designers and built environment professionals must evolve. Leveraging their synergies, FOE and SDE collaboratively created a distinctive Common Curriculum that takes students out of their silos to embrace the intersection of different disciplines. An architecture student, for example, will learn about artificial intelligence which will add value to his/her professional training. We foresee many exciting possibilities,” he added.

The Common Curriculum was developed by a task force comprising six industry leaders and 10 NUS academics.

Acclaimed urban planner and architect Dr Cheong Koon Hean, who is Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities under the Singapore Ministry of National Development and a member of the task force, said, “There is great urgency in ensuring that we develop a more sustainable world. 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. The new interdisciplinary approach undertaken by NUS FOE and SDE will make a significant contribution towards this vision.” Dr Cheong is also a member of the NUS Board of Trustees.

"Engineering is a key driver of innovation. This new curriculum, designed in consultation with the industry, will create stronger synergy and capabilities in our science and technology ecosystem. I am confident and look forward to its graduates in developing impactful technologies and solutions for the community and the nation," said task force member Mr Cheong Chee Hoo, Chief Executive Officer, DSO National Laboratories.

Another task force member Professor Wong Mun Summ, who is the Co-Founding Director of award-winning architectural practice WOHA, said, “Climate change is the greatest threat to cities and humanity. Technology is shaping 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. This, in time to come, can stimulate a fundamental mindset shift in the entire creative industry.” Prof Wong is also Professor in Practice at the NUS Department of Architecture.

New interdisciplinary modules

New interdisciplinary modules will be specially designed and offered through the Common Curriculum for FOE and SDE students.

For example, FOE and SDE students will read a module within the “Sustainable Futures” pillar under the tutelage of Professor Khoo Teng Chye, former Executive Director for the Centre for Liveable Cities under the Singapore Ministry of National Development, and a leading expert in sustainable urbanisation. This pillar raises students’ awareness to issues in the area of sustainability, highlighting the impacts of technology on the environment and society in both a local and global context. They will also be exposed to related liveability issues such as diversity, accessibility, vibrancy, and resilience.

Another new interdisciplinary module called “Creating Narratives” aims to help students communicate competently and confidently in the various professional communication situations they encounter.

Flexible, student-centric curriculum structure

FOE and SDE will adopt a new undergraduate curriculum structure for students enrolled in the new academic year starting in August 2021. This student-centric curriculum structure is developed to be flexible so that students can have more space to design their own degree programmes based on their passions and aptitude.

Students from FOE and SDE will read a total of 40 modules, comprising:

  • An equivalent of 15 modules in the Common Curriculum (comprising 6 General Education modules and 7 modules imparting engineering-design interdisciplinary skills and 1 Integrated Project, which is equivalent to two modules)
  • 15 modules in the selected major
  • 10 modules as Unrestricted Electives (students could use this space to increase depth in their selected specialisation or breadth by pursuing a second major, minor or courses of their interest)

Students typically complete 40 modules required for a Bachelor's degree in four years, of which they are recommended to complete most of the Common Curriculum in 1.5 years.

The new intake of over 1,500 engineering students and some 330 students pursuing programmes in architecture, industrial design, landscape architecture as well as project and facilities management will benefit from the new curriculum structure. The curriculum structure for Real Estate students remains unchanged.

Please refer to Annex 2 for information on FOE’s new undergraduate curriculum and Annex 3 for information on SDE’s new undergraduate curriculum.

Engineering education reimagined

“This is a great opportunity for us to reimagine engineering education to nurture engineers who can go ‘broad’ and ‘deep’. We are increasing the learning pathways for students and also injecting non-traditional engineering courses for our students to develop new skills that are required to solve complex real-world problems,” explained Professor Aaron Thean, Dean of NUS Faculty of Engineering.

Prof Thean added, “Currently, doing a second major or a minor stretching across disciplines is only undertaken by a small group of academically ambitious engineering students. With the new curriculum structure, we are making such ‘hybrid’ training accessible to more students. We will also be enhancing academic and career counselling for students so that they can get appropriate guidance when charting their own paths.”

Future-ready designers and city-makers

Aspiring architects, industrial designers and built environment professionals will also be equipped with 21st century skills and be well-poised to create future-ready solutions for planning, building and managing sustainable and healthy cities.

Professor Lam Khee Poh, Dean of NUS School of Design and Environment, explained, “Singapore is one of the most liveable cities in Asia and the world. 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.”

“At SDE, our students will continue to receive high quality professional training in their chosen discipline. This unique partnership with FOE to broaden and enrich our students’ learning experience will open doors to new opportunities,” he added.