Press Releases

March 4, 2008

Expansion and Diversification of the University Landscape

The addition of a new publicly-funded university and a Liberal Arts College is envisaged to inject more diversity into the publicly-funded university sector, as part of the expansion of the sector to cater to 30% of cohort by 2015. These were among the preliminary recommendations of the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector, chaired by Minister of State for Education RAdm (NS) Lui Tuck Yew.

In the near term, MOE is working with the three publicly-funded universities (NUS, NTU and SMU) to ensure that the target of providing university places for 25% of each Singaporean Primary One cohort will be achieved from 2008, instead of 2010 as originally planned.

The Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector was formed in September 2007 to study how the university sector should be expanded, taking into account the Government’s intention to provide subsidised university education for 30% of each cohort, to meet the following key considerations:-

  1. Provide additional publicly-subsidised university places which are broadly aligned with Singapore’s longer-term manpower needs; and
  2. Allow for a diversity of university-level paths, to meet the needs of the market and the aspirations of parents and students.

A robust and diverse university sector will also help to anchor talented Singaporeans in Singapore and to attract talented international students here.

Earlier Attainment of 25% Cohort Participation Rate (CPR)

MOE will achieve the target of 25% CPR by 2008, ahead of the original 2010 target. In Academic Year (AY) 2007, MOE significantly increased the number of subsidised places offered in NUS, NTU and SMU to cater to the large cohort of students matriculating in that year. For AY2008, our universities will provide the same number of places as AY2007 – about 14, 700. As the size of the cohort in AY2008 is significantly smaller than AY2007, this will enable about slightly above 25% of cohort to obtain places in 2008, compared to 23.5% in 2007. For AY2009, the universities will provide an additional 900 places to cater to the larger cohort in that year, in order to maintain the CPR at 25%.

The Committee recommends that a new publicly-funded university should be established to cater to the further increase in target CPR from 25% to 30% by 2015. The increase requires approximately 2,400 additional subsidised university places annually. Setting up a new university offers the best chance of creating an institution that will develop its own unique identity, character and model of education to add real diversity in educational approaches.

With the increase in CPR to 30%, proportionately more polytechnic students will also have places in the publicly-funded universities than is the case today.

Setting up a New Publicly-funded University

The Committee’s preliminary recommendation is that a new publicly-funded university be established, with an eventual intake of between 2,500 and 3,000. It will take a few years to get the new university started, and the initial intake will have to be smaller at about 500 students.

Approach to Education

The Committee is of the view that the new university should be differentiated from the existing universities in its approach to education – with an integrated, inter-disciplinary approach to learning, real-world experience and entrepreneurship.

The Committee has considered the future needs of Singapore’s economy in the years to come. It has also consulted widely with industry leaders, parents and students and looked at possible models and approaches to university education in the US and Europe.

Based on its consultations and studies, the Committee proposes that the new university could be designed to provide:-

  1. An integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning. As a new university, its programmes could be formulated so that there is significant integration from the outset. Students will have sound fundamental knowledge of disciplines such as engineering, design or business but will also recognise that it is at the boundaries of the traditional disciplines that the most exciting learning will take place.

    To bring greater focus to such interdisciplinary learning and collaboration, the new university could also set up inter-disciplinary centres around specific themes such as future urban environments and sustainable development.

  2. Real-world experience to allow students to apply classroom learning in a practical context. The new university could adopt a flexible academic schedule to accommodate internships lasting about six months where students would be immersed in the working world. Through these experiences, students could develop communication skills and teamwork, while also gaining a significant amount of working experience to enrich their portfolio even before they graduate.

    CEOs consulted by the Committee have welcomed this as it will give companies and undergraduates an opportunity to size up each other. It will also provide graduates who are more work-ready when they step into the work force.

  3. Entrepreneurship could be part of the new university’s core curriculum. To encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in its students, the new university’s programme structure could also allow students to disrupt their studies for one or two years to pursue entrepreneurial interests. They would be able to subsequently return to complete their degrees if they wished.

These features would be anchored by a strong focus on teaching, with close interactions between student and faculty, including in smaller group settings. The new university could also undertake solutions-directed research that aims to provide practical and effective answers to problems that industry and companies face in the near and medium term.

Disciplines to be Offered

The Committee received feedback from various industry sectors on areas that could offer significant growth opportunities in the future. Students and parents also provided feedback on areas of interest, and areas that were perceived to be under-served. Feedback has centred around the interplay between the fields of Design, Engineering and Business. This interplay of disciplines could be focused on areas of growth such as clean technology and sustainable building design, and tourism and hospitality. However, the actual disciplines and their interplay will have to be studied and determined in due course by the management of the new university.

It was felt that a combination of such programmes would support the new university’s integrated, inter-disciplinary approach and would provide rich opportunities for learning and collaboration. For example, its Engineering students could practise design thinking and principles to help them come up with creative solutions and products that are attuned to users’ needs. They would also be well-versed in the business aspects of engineering that will help them develop strong project management and entrepreneurial skills.

The integration of these disciplines has been successfully demonstrated in overseas institutions such as Stanford University’s Institute of Design. Groundbreaking products such as Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch also combine superior design, sound engineering and savvy marketing to unlock new value and markets.

Establishment of a Liberal Arts College1

The Committee’s preliminary recommendation is to establish a small liberal arts college, affiliated to one of our existing universities.

Liberal arts colleges are distinguished by a broad-based, multi-disciplinary education that may include the natural and social sciences, mathematics and the humanities. They are also characterised by a small student intake of about 200-300 each year, whose calibre is comparable to the best in the Ivy League universities. The small intake size allows the liberal arts college to provide intense interaction among students and with faculty to create a stimulating environment.

The Committee is of the view that the liberal arts college is an attractive model of education that will offer a valuable alternative for a small number of our brightest students. It will also draw top foreign students from the region.

Singapore’s first liberal arts college could be affiliated to one of our existing universities. This will enable the college to leverage on the branding and resources of its parent university.

NUS has carried out an in-depth study and submitted a proposal to establish a Liberal Arts College as a self-contained autonomous entity, similar to the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory or the NUS-Duke Graduate Medical School. SMU is also considering ways in which it could offer a liberal arts education to its students as it expands its disciplinary coverage.

A New University Landscape

Our existing universities will continue to build up the quality of their undergraduate education and seek to develop new peaks of excellence. NUS and NTU will maintain their current level of undergraduate intake and focus on enhancing the quality of their undergraduate programmes. The two universities will also further develop their postgraduate and research programmes. SMU will expand its annual undergraduate intake to about 2000 students through additional programmes, while enhancing its postgraduate education offerings and further strengthening its research capabilities.

The Committee envisions that in the longer term, the publicly-subsidised university landscape would comprise (i) two large universities in NUS and NTU, (ii) two mid-sized universities in SMU and the new university, (iii) UniSIM which focuses on part-time degree programmes, and (iv) a number of quality institutions offering degree programmes in niche fields.

The two large universities, NUS and NTU, will each offer a comprehensive suite of degree programmes and have a strong focus on postgraduate education and research. The two mid-sized universities, SMU and the new publicly-funded university, will each offer a focused selection of degree programmes.

These four publicly-funded universities will be complemented by the niche degree programmes being offered in Singapore by foreign institutions in collaboration with the polytechnics. We will increase the number of such collaborations and also study the possibility of extending public subsidies in future to high quality degree programmes offered by other institutions in Singapore in niche areas such as the Arts.

In addition, there will be publicly-funded part-time degree programmes offered through UniSIM and the autonomous universities. These will provide Singaporeans and PRs who had previously missed out on a university education with the opportunity to obtain a subsidised degree education on a part-time basis.2

Background

At the National Rally 2007, the Government committed to increasing the target CPR from 25% by 2010, to 30% by 2015. A Committee, chaired by Minister of State RAdm Lui Tuck Yew and comprising representatives from industry, academia and the public sector, was formed in September 2007 to study the best approach to expanding the university sector.

Since then, the Committee has studied the university landscapes and institutional models of universities in other countries, and has held focus group discussions with students, alumni, parents and industry. Before the Committee submits its report and recommendations to the government, it will obtain comments from MOE’s International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP) when the panel convenes in late Jun 2008.

Footnotes:

  1. The term Liberal Arts refers to a college or university curriculum that is aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational or technical curriculum.
  2. Government subsidies for continuing education and training degree-level programmes on a part-time basis at local universities (NUS, NTU, SMU and UniSIM) was announced during the 2008 Budget Speech on 15 February 2008.