10 July 2017
Singapore’s universities should become more flexible and move away from the British-inherited system of forcing students to decide on their majors early in their academic years.
It often takes a lot of time for students to decide on what careers they wish to embark and what their interests are. Consequently, such an “inbuilt inflexibility” in the current university system may not serve students’ interests well, nor be productive for the overall economy.
More flexibility must be introduced into the higher education landscape to accommodate those who may have discovered new interests midway through their academic programmes.
Newer universities in Singapore have recognized this, and when they were established, they tried to incorporate more flexibility in their systems. For example, students at SUTD have to declare their specialisations only at the end of their first year, after taking common modules in subjects such as design, science and mathematics. At Yale-NUS College, most students have to declare their majors only at the end of their second year.
At the bigger and older universities like NUS or NTU though, not many students have the chance to switch their course of study midway through their programme. Less than 1 per cent of NTU’s undergraduates do so, and at NUS, only about 2 per cent of eligible students successfully changed their major or programme in the last academic year.
Several faculties at NUS have revised their undergraduate curricula to allow students to pursue double-major or major-minor combinations that allow them to pursue other interests and disciplines without having to push back their graduation date. The university now offers more than 90 structured double-major and major-minor combinations.