Asha Prihar, Contributing Photographer

The National University of Singapore College, the successor to Yale-NUS, plans to revamp the closing Yale-affiliated college’s liberal arts common curriculum but retain many of its core elements, the dean-designate of the College told the News Wednesday.

Announced last August, NUS College is the result of the merger between Yale-NUS and NUS’s University Scholars’ Programme, or USP, and is set to open later this year — three years before Yale-NUS shuts its doors. Pivoting from the autonomous model of its predecessor, NUS College is a four-year honors program for undergraduates enrolled at the National University of Singapore, the College’s larger umbrella university. The new program will offer a common curriculum that is supplementary to a student’s major at NUS, with the expectation that enrolled students will take 14 out of their 40 courses at the College and the rest at the NUS school relevant to their major.

“Our common curriculum is rigorous and challenging, but also needs to fit the diverse pathways available to [NUS College] students,” Simon Chesterman, the dean-designate of NUS College, told the News.  

Chesterman was named as the inaugural dean of NUS College on Jan. 4 and will begin his role on July 1. He will continue in his role as the dean of NUS Law, a post he has held since 2012. Chesterman will also take on the concurrent appointment of vice provost of educational innovation at NUS later this year.

The 50 majors offered by NUS College will include traditional liberal arts subjects as well as a number of professional degrees. The College’s professional offerings will expand on those provided by Yale-NUS, where options are limited to a bachelor’s degree in law and a master’s degree in environmental studies. Though applicants to NUS College are asked to indicate their intended major when applying, they will be allowed to change their major up until their fourth semester of study. 

The new core curriculum will consist of common courses that draw from existing courses at Yale-NUS and USP, Chesterman said. These include “Global Narratives,” “Understanding our Social World,” “Global Social Theories” and “Science and Society” which evolved from Yale-NUS’ common curriculum courses such as “Philosophy and Political Thought,” “Literature and Humanities,” “Comparative Social Inquiry,” “Modern Social Thought” and “Scientific Inquiry”.

A Jan. 25 article from the Straits Times, Singapore’s flagship daily newspaper, reported that NUS College had plans to drop Yale-NUS’s liberal arts curriculum. When approached by the News, both Chesterman and Pericles Lewis, vice provost at Yale and Yale-NUS’s founding president, clarified this.

“The NUS College curriculum retains about half the Yale-NUS Curriculum,” Lewis said. “In fact, a lot of the same material is covered but it is divided up differently and the courses have new names.”

Lewis served as the president of Yale-NUS from its establishment in 2011 to 2017. He currently serves on its governing board and in an advisory role on the transition committee to NUS College, in addition to his roles as vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives at Yale.

Lewis added that there were a few differences, however, between the two schools’ core curriculums, such as a greater influence on digital and data literacy in NUS College.

“I am glad that NUS College is adapting several features of the liberal arts curriculum that we pioneered at Yale-NUS,” Lewis wrote. “That said, the purpose of NUS College is different than that of Yale-NUS — NUS College is an honors college for the whole NUS so it will have students majoring in fields outside the arts and sciences, and I think the committee adapted the curriculum so that it could fit well with the studies of students in engineering, business, or law as well as arts and sciences.”

According to Chesterman, classes at NUS College will reflect the liberal arts tradition of discussion-based small classes, which are already the norm at both Yale-NUS and USP. The College will offer a range of electives in the humanities, social sciences and STEM fields that will be built upon existing USP classes. New electives will also be created atop existing Yale-NUS classes and by faculty transferring into the new College.

“There is much in that curriculum that draws on the experience of Yale-NUS as well as the University Scholars Programme (USP) — and also elements that are completely new,” Chesterman wrote.

NUS College will also have a new Global Pathways program and Global Experience classes, which share common features with Yale-NUS’ Learning Across Boundaries courses but will leverage heavily on the global networks of the NUS Overseas Colleges program. The new curriculum will also include the addition of the Impact Experience Project, a novel capstone course which will integrate experiential learning, interdisciplinarity and impact on the wider community. According to Chesterman, these offerings will be fully implemented in the 2023-24 academic year.

The curriculum was developed over the last six months, Chesterman said, in parallel with the work of the NUS College Planning Committee. He emphasized that much of the faculty who helped develop the curriculum had taught courses in the Yale-NUS common curriculum and in USP.

“We are extremely thankful for the ongoing collaborative effort put in by both Yale-NUS and USP faculty, as well as for the goodwill and contributions from various members in the Yale and NUS communities towards making the [NUS College] curriculum possible,” Chesterman wrote. “We are currently consolidating ideas and feedback as part of a consultation with the wider NUS community, and will finalise plans in the months ahead.”

The curriculum working group of the NUS College Planning Committee is chaired by Joanne Roberts, the incoming president of Yale-NUS and is composed of faculty and students from NUS, USP and Yale-NUS. Roberts was appointed the next and final president of Yale-NUS in November 2021 and will take up the role in July. Having joined the school in 2017, she currently serves as the executive vice president of academic affairs at Yale-NUS.

NUS has seen a significant change in its general education model over the past few years, Roberts wrote. The university announced the adoption of a common curriculum for its engineering, design and environment students beginning in fall 2021 and introduced a common curriculum for students at the NUS College of Humanities and Sciences — a merger of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science.

“This interest in strengthening and deepening liberal arts and sciences education in Singapore will undoubtedly continue in the years to come,” Roberts said. “I believe that Yale-NUS has played an important role in this reshaping of priorities — to have liberal arts and sciences education be more inclusive, broad based, interdisciplinary, and accessible.”

Still, reactions from students about the NUS College’s planning process remain mixed. 

A December survey published by The Octant, Yale-NUS’s student newspaper found that less than 5 percent of the 600 respondents were satisfied with the planning process for the new college. Both Yale-NUS and USP students expressed low confidence that NUS College would be able to provide an interdisciplinary, accessible, flexible and inclusive education to incoming students.

“Given the pride our community feels in what we have built, many of our students, staff and faculty have wanted to participate in the development of NUS College to see the legacy of Yale-NUS continue there,” Roberts said. “It will be difficult to say goodbye to Yale-NUS, but I hope we can share what we have learned and developed here.”

Yale-NUS is Singapore’s first liberal arts and sciences college, and its establishment made Yale the first Ivy League school to establish a college bearing its name in Asia.

Correction, Nov. 18: A previous version of this article stated that students at NUS College are able to change their major up until their fourth year of study. In fact, they are able to change their major up until their fourth semester of study.

MIRANDA JEYARETNAM
Miranda Jeyaretnam is the beat reporter covering the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and developments at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS for the YDN's University desk. She was formerly the opinion editor for the Yale Daily News under the YDN Board of 2022 and wrote as a staff columnist for her opinion column 'Crossing the Aisle' in Spring 2020. From Singapore, she is a sophomore in Pierson College, majoring in English.