Global Readiness of NUS Graduates

We are living in a globalized and interconnected world; it has thus become imperative that our graduates are broadening their horizons, developing global mindsets and honing cross cultural skills.

 How we seek to achieve this is broadly two-fold. First, we try to create as many opportunities for students to gain an overseas experience. Over half of our undergraduates will have at least an overseas exposure stint; and a quarter of our undergraduates will spend at least a semester abroad. We have also expanded the range of international learning experiences, from student exchange programmes with universities all around the world, to an entrepreneurial work and study stint with an NUS Overseas College. There are also a range of programmes of shorter duration, such as internships, summer programmes and research attachment programmes.  Returning students have found their overseas experiences enriching and eye-opening.

 Still, there is the other nearly half of our undergraduate population who are not participating in any of our overseas programmes. And amongst this group, some are students who have done well academically. Perhaps some of you could share why you are not pursuing an overseas stint and what the impediments are. Is it due to the selection criteria, or are finances the key obstacle?

 Second, we are in tandem, ‘bringing the world to NUS’. Every year, we welcome over 1,400 exchange students from abroad. Faculty members join us also from across the world. There is so much richness in diversity, and its potential for mutual learning and edification is for us to embrace.

 Herein, many students have shared that residential living in Halls and the Residential Colleges has been especially beneficial for cross-cultural exposure and learning. Yet, I think we can leverage further on the diversity on campus, whether in class or in the dorms. Is there more we can do to help students benefit from this diverse community we have on campus? Would it be useful for lecturers to formalize interaction opportunities in the classroom, such as through the assignment of groups? Afterall, this mimics a working situation where we do not always get to choose our partners.


  1. hope that the graduate residence could also be mix dorm. right now we see the same race be put in one apartment.

    1. GR is a mixed dormitory. We make it a point to ensure that there is a healthy mix of students from different nationalities allocated to GR, and that rooms are randomly allocated. However, there are cases of students who apply as a group to share a suite. We respect the choices of these students, and will allocate accordingly, if space is available. Also, given sometimes large numbers of students from one nationality applying to GR, it is inevitable that many will end up together in same apartments. I would like to state that it is not university policy to concentrate students of certain nationalities in specific clusters. Our policy is always to mix them up, as far as possible.

  2. It’s good to see the availability of overseas programs, but I just wanted to ask why there is a disparity in terms of the pre-requisites for the same programs. I’m not pinpointing but I’m just curious to know why FASS does not allow year 3 non-honours students to embark on the year-long NOC program whereas students from other faculties can. Doing so in the second semester of the third year is still within the maximum candidature of 4 years. Would be good to hear the explanation as well as understand better why the information was not passed down to students. Thanks.

  3. “Still, there is the other nearly half of our undergraduate population who are not participating in any of our overseas programmes. And amongst this group, some are students who have done well academically. Perhaps some of you could share why you are not pursuing an overseas stint and what the impediments are. Is it due to the selection criteria, or are finances the key obstacle?”

    –> Finances are indeed the key obstacle, I thought it was strange that my friend who went to India on exchange received over SGD4000 in aid from the Temasek Foundation, but the average student who goes to the US on exchange gets either no aid or the NASA award which is about SGD2000. If you factor in the exchange rate and living cost, it really does not make sense. Sure, this should shape students’ behaviour and make them choose Asian exchange destination countries over the US and Europe — but there are much fewer available exchange spaces to India (I think about 8 in total for Delhi University, and only if you are USP) than to the US or Europe.

    2) Leveraging on Diversity
    Has NUS considered allowing our diverse graduate students teach language courses to interested undergraduate students? In many top US universities graduate students from other countries are matched with other students who are interested in studying native languages in their countries. Granted, teaching a language is no easy feat, I have had ample experience with mediocre language teachers. Yet, in between the communication breakdowns and all, students would get to learn about another culture and there would be the interaction that the administration is so interested in seeing!

    1. We are aware of NUS students’ financial concerns, hence we are constantly looking for ways and more funds to make it more affordable for our students to go on overseas programmes.

      In AY2010/2011, more than $2.2m was disbursed among more than 850 students for NUS Awards for Study Abroad (NASA). We are looking to increase the amount of NASA funding for the years ahead, so that more NUS students can benefit and go for overseas programmes.

      Besides NASA funding, NUS also benefits from funding from donor organizations such as Temasek Foundation and Lee Foundation. We are greatly appreciative of these external funding, and it is only right that we comply with these donors’ requirements, for example to use their funding for only overseas programmes to certain regions or universities. Again, we are constantly working to secure more funding as well as partnership opportunities with philanthropic, industry and university partners for NUS students (for example, overseas internships with these partners).

      Your idea on language teaching is interesting and I have conveyed your suggestion for my colleagues’ consideration.

  4. Yiming: yes It is pretty weird that apartments are separated by origin aka race. However, I guess the intention is to avoid cultural clashes in your living environment. Actually, I think about it regularly and all my thoughts are inconclusive. On one side it would be good to mix to force people to look beyond their own cultural heritage. However, I also think that it is good to minimize the potential of weird situations in your home. But well: as I said: I am not sure what would be better. After all there are lots of opportunities to mix. You just need to take them. Forcing people might help some; but I also think that mixing should be one’s personal choice.

    That also answers the question whether lecturers should formalize interactions in class. There are pros, there are cons 🙂

    1. As I have mentioned in my response to Yiming, GR is a mixed dormitory. We never had the intention to separate by race or nationality.

  5. Hi, thanks for your request for comments – I think administrative inflexibility has been a problem regarding opportunities to go on exchange. I would like to point out the serious disadvantages that the Econs-Law double degree students are placed in.

    These DDP students are only allowed to go on an economics exhcnage in year 4. However, FASS only limits the number of universities available to 3 locations (Lund, Stockholm & Chualalongkorn)when more than 50 options are available to the rest of the FASS students. This has placed the DDP students in a serious disadvantage in 1) being limited in the their exchange options and 2) lowering their chances of getting an exchange place, since they can only apply to three locations.

    Such an arrangement seems manifestly unfair to DDP students. More flexibility (and a better justification) on the part of FASS is desired.

      1. I guess your primary Faculty is Law? If your primary Faculty is FASS, then you would have access to all the SEP universities avaiable to FASS students. Law SEP partners usually only offer law courses, and thus you would have little access to economics courses in these partner universities.

  6. Hi Prof, indeed, NUS does have plenty of opportunities for overseas exposure, and I’m glad that I was one of the fortunate few who went to Canada for an exchange program. My main take away was a form of classroom experience that involved plenty of critical thinking and interaction, which was in contrast to what we have in NUS.

    For me, I chose Universities that were not popular choices because I felt that my CAP was not high enough to be given a spot in the more popular choices such as McGill and UBC. While the fact that I was asked for an interview gave me some form of assurances that there could be other criteria other than CAP and that I could have a higher chance of getting in (this is the practice in Science, I’m not sure about other faculties), perhaps some clarifications on how students are chosen for exchange could be made known to us?

    My other friends who chose not to participate do so because of financial reasons due to lack of funds to venture overseas and the opportunity costs given that they were already holding part time jobs at that time. Others stayed because they simply wanted to “pull CAP” or could not map sufficient modules over to graduate.

    To localize the exchange experience in a classroom setting, perhaps we could have an “Exchange Enrichment Module” at each faculty where a visiting professor from overseas could be teaching/facilitating the module (I was once taught IT1001 by a visiting Korean Professor, and I loved the learning experience and interaction). This module could have a GE code and should have an interesting title and outline so that students from all woks of life would be drawn towards it. Perhaps some of the exchange students to Singapore could be asked to take the module and marks awarded for class interaction to decrease the occurrences of awkward silences. Class sizes could be kept smaller or TA:student ratio could be increased help to facilitate interactivity within the groups, and hopefully these formal assignments of groups could be used not just for assignment purposes.

    UC Berkeley has platforms where students could initiate and even conduct their own modules. Perhaps NUS could have that as well!

    1. Thanks, Calvin. Perhaps you could share your learning experience in Canada, and we could learn from it. You may correspond with me via email.

      You do have interesting ideas which we will be happy to explore.

  7. I am an engineering undergrad. I didn’t apply for exchange but I did go for a local internship stint. I think an internship stint provides useful work experience that is not available in a classroom setting.

    As for student exchange, yes finances is a major concern. But more importantly and fundamentally, I don’t really see the value of a semester long study overseas. As you have mentioned in your post, ‘bringing the world to NUS’. The diverse cultural environment already exists here. The way i see it is that there isn’t really a need to study and live overseas when you are experiencing the same thing right here in NUS.

    In one module, I am in a project group with an exchange student from Switzerland. Most of my coursemates are from China and India. In CCA, I meet some Indonesian/ Malaysian friends. During my local internship, I meet a number of filipino colleagues.

    Some might say an overseas stint builds independence and strong character in a person as one is pushed beyond one’s comfort zone away from home. But I did 2 years of National Service and I think that the experience has provided the same character-building opportunity for me.

    Hence, the cost of SEP does not justify the value that it brings about. Just some thoughts that I think might partially represent the silent portion of NUS students here who did not go on exchange.

    1. Keep your mind open. If you have the chance, take a short trip, say join one of our STEER programmes to the Middle East or Russia. You do not know what you don’t know.

  8. Hey Prof,

    1. Regarding why we’re not going for overseas exchanges, for students from Pharmacy our curriculum is rather highly structured, and so we do not have the ability to join in the same type of NOC activities that people from other faculties can. There are overseas exposure opportunities available under the auspices of the IPSF-SEP, but it entails a lot of administrative obstacles, and unlike the ones the other students are able to participate in, the SEP only lasts for about a month or two, which wipes out our vacation between Sem 2 of one year and Sem 1 of the next.

    Aside from just financial concerns,which in itself is a problem, the loss of valuable time to rest and recharge, and the inability of SEP to be used as a modular credit makes the programme generally unattractive to people like me, whereas for the NOC programme students do get to clear a few modular requirements, get a minor, and also keep their vacation generally intact.

    Of course, we comprise a very small cohort, so there will be other reasons why students from other faculties not under the same constraints are not going either.

    2. Random assignment of groups would be desirable. Currently, there are two systems in place – you pick your own groups, or the groups are assigned via name order.

    The first has the problem that the same cliques will end up working together all the time and interaction between students of different cliques is severely limited. Also, there is that matter of some people getting left out entirely, and having trouble finding the last group left with vacancies.

    The second has another problem in that since multiple modules all use the same name order (since the cohort is small and modules are structured in), the groups that form semester after semester are again restricted, though this doesn’t have the “last man left behind” issue.

    If there could be some way to randomise the selection of groups so that generally, students are kind of forced to work with people they don’t know, then on the whole the interaction between different students will increase. I would personally welcome such a randomised arrangement.

    1. Yes, Pharmacy has a very tight curriculum and that made exchange complicated. I hope to change that.

      We have advised our colleagues to use randomised groupings and the rationale is to simulate a real working environment where people don’t get to choose their colleagues and project teammates. Many students do accept this explanation although some are not comfortable. In classes where we have exchange students, this is also a good way for students to gain some ‘international’ experience locally. But the difficulty of this approach is that members of each project group are likely to have different timetables and so some groups may have difficulty finding enough common timeslots to complete the projects. We will continue to encourage our colleagues to do more of this.

  9. Dear Prof Tan, good to hear your personal thoughts on this matter.

    I believe many were concerned about living expenses overseas. I am currently in an SEP and I have to take a personal loan. I tried applying for NASA Award at the point of SEP application but my cap wasn’t high enough to do so and I was told if my CAP improved, I will be informed to re-apply. Truth is, my CAP did exceed(Close to 4.0) the minimum CAP to apply NASA but I wasn’t updated of any application status. I understand this could be because I was too late or perhaps the office didn’t even take my application into account at all – To speed things up and close the application round.

    While I understand the importance of CAP as a gauge to different overseas program, I believe NUS should redefine the way they look at CAP and their students. View each NUS undergraduate in his own context. Don’t get me wrong, I do see some students who were plain lazy and thus deserve their own failures. How about students who struggled in the first year adapting to highly competitive NUS environment? Considering waiving off the CAP for first year students? Allowing them to explore, take risks and discover their true abilities?

    I am one good example. My first semester(CAP 2.5) was a disaster and I nearly thought I am not cut out to do well or survive in NUS. Worst of all, I was an NUS scholar! My scholarship was suspended. 2nd semester, I did my best and managed to pull CAP to a mere 3.0.
    I told myself to forget about maintaining the scholarship, I just want to enjoy learning. One professor said this to the class, “Don’t be too anxious about grades, you here in school to learn not to succeed” To my surprise, I restored my scholarship status from Sem 3 onward and now aiming for 2nd Honors. The lesson to me was: If I were to fail, I must fail forward but truth is, who will wait for someone like me to rise above “the minimum requirements”. Many people look at end result but neglected the process. It is the journey process that cultivates a person, not his end results because there are many different pathways up to the same mountain top.

    So, for students like me should be given equal chances to apply for certain privileges (eg NASA award, SEP). Make these students write an essay so you can read their attitudes and passion, rather than just use CAP as the single determining factor. After reading their personal statements, if you think they are of some “worth”, bring them in for an interview.

    There is no short cuts in developing a person and looking at our CAP isn’t the only way.

    1. I empathize with you. I have asked IRO to review this criteria of requiring a minimum level of CAP to apply for financial awards.

  10. Dear Prof.Tan

    I’m Darren Le Phuoc Duy, NUS student from Vietnam. I myself is currently having a wonderful year in Sweden for my NOC year. And hence I am very thankful to NUS for this like-no-other journey.

    The sad fact is I only knew about NOC until the beginning of year 2 when I joined NUS Entrepreneurship Society, where I learned from our seniors about how awesome the program is. From my opinion, we may need a more ‘aggressive’ publicity campaign for those oversea programs. We may consider to not only include but also highlight those programs during the ‘Orientation week’ for freshmen. We should be aware of any oversea programs earlier in order to plan well for four years in NUS.

    Besides, I think NUS itself is a diverse and dynamic school with about 30% are of international students – a figure that less than 10 top-ranked universities in the world can have. Why dont we encourage more interaction/cultural exchange among us as well? I feel very sad that most of foreign students stick with our own country groups. I would suggest to implement a policy like: no more than 2 students from the same country living in a same cluster, or we have a quota for the percentage of students from the same country living in a residence/hall. Or i know some country groups organize their National Days, why dont we ask them to open door for others to come and celebrate the day with them? I guess exchange students are quite interested in those events. I think we are having all we need, the only thing left now is a policy from NUS to bring us closer.

    Third, we cant join any CCA or think about SEP or NOC if mapping modules is a ‘huge’ burden. Some of us need to extend the course or miss core modules if going for SEP or NOC, since studying in NUS is already stressful, having so many core modules in one semester (due to SEP) is like suicide. In the other words, there is an implicit cost for gaining global experience. Shall we have a more flexible mapping policy?

    Last but not least, I hope studying in NUS is more enjoyable and students enjoy everyday going to school, then we also enjoy joining CCA or joining additional program like SEP, iIntern or NOC. Bell curve is a great idea to encourage students put more effort, but it makes us feel very stressful as well. I hope we can stretch the current bell-curve a bit more: like first 10% for A and A+, but next 20% for B+ and next 30% for B… it is not to make the CAP higher, it is to make us less stressful. Having more time for final exam is good as well, we cant think of any new idea within 2 hours and having 4 questions – now is like memorizing competition rather than we test how far students understand. Less final exams and more cooperative works like projects are good as well.

    Going abroad gives me an unique chance to realize how awesome we are: we should be proud that we have so many choices and opportunities offered to our students, but when i was in NUS, i barely knew it.

    At the same time, I think the ultimate goal of education is not being a dean-lister with CAP 5.0 but an explorer on our field. Should we look back the way we educate our students: are we making them feel that the ultimate goal is having a good score, or having more experience and being them selves?

    Just change the way NUS students, i think we will receive more applicants for oversea programs. And perhaps, they dont apply but they will find/create a journey by their own.

    This is just my personal view-point, please take it as reference. Hope it means something to you.

    Darren Le

    1. Yes, I think there is too much bureacracy in the mapping of modules. We are working with the Faculties to simply this and keep an eye on their administrators (who are sometimes quite rigid in allowing for mapping). We believe that NUS can exercise a lot of flexibility in the mapping of modules.

      Slightly less than 20% of our undergraduates are international students. We do notice the clustering among students of the same nationality. You are right that these students are shortchanging themselves if they only keep to their friends from the same country. NUS is a microcosm of the global environment and our hope is for all our students to learn and benefit from the University environment by engaging students of different cultures, expertise, interests, etc.

  11. Hi!

    I agree with some of the comments above. I’m an exchange student from Mexico and was really surprised of how much people have asked me to teach them spanish because there’s no spanish department here. It would be nice to give the opportunity to both exchange students and local students to have a peer-to-peer formal program (a lot of exchange students are taking chinese as well, for example). Also, I believe most exchange students are having a hard time to adapt to the school system here. There is no orientation about the teaching and learning techniques used in NUS. I had to ask a lot of how the grading system, the studying expected hours as well as the exams are carried on. The orientation does not have to be given by some school department. I think it would be even better if local students were involved in this. I came here to study, so I guess that could be really helpful (my grades do count back home).

    Apart from that, I’m really enjoying my time here in NUS. I love the environment and as I become more used to the studying pace, I’m loving it more. (:

    NUS was the best choice I could have done for my exchange year, really happy to be here (:

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks very much, Diane – we will take onboard your comments and suggestions. Continue to have a good stay at NUS!

  12. Dear Prof.,

    I am a part-time graduate in the SoM. I would like to enquire why only full-time graduates are eligible to apply for the U-Town graduate residences. Part-time graduates also need accommodation. We are also your students. Not only that, some of the useful courses in NUS are also only eligible for full-time students. What about us? We are just second-class people. We don’t seem to have more money than full-time students. Then, do we have more benefits than full-time students? NO! Equal? NO!

    1. Every graduate student can apply for housing at NUS. However, given that our capacity is limited, we have to develop priorities in allocation. In the case of GR, we try to meet the needs of first year graduate (PhD) students first, followed by second and third year full-time graduate (PhD and MA) students, followed by part-time students. We also have to cater to a number of full-time postdoctoral students. As the demand usually exceeds supply, we are often not in a position to offer university housing to part-time graduate students. If you write to me directly, maybe I can help to see if there are other ways we could help.

  13. I myself was not able to enjoy an overseas exchange programme as an undergraduate because of financial constraints. I did not have my first overseas experience until after I obtained my BA, when I joined the US Peace Corps and was sent to Malaysia. I hope that everything possible will be done to inform NUS students of financial aid available to them, to enable all who wish to participate in undergraduate study abroad to do so.

    1. Thanks, John. I think overseas programmes are known to a large proportion of our students. Moving forward, we will also be ramping up the marketing of our overseas programmes so that more NUS students will get to know of these opportunities, the requirements, timelines and financial aid available. We will do this through the NUS website, SEP clinics and other talks hosted by NUS IRO, as well as during key events such as NUS Open House, International Exchange Day and country/region days (for example, the recent Middle East Day which you had helped). One of our aims will also be to look for more overseas opportunities in Asia and other developing countries/regions for NUS students. The nexus of global economic power is shifting to Asia and other developing regions such as Latin America (e.g., Brazil) and Eastern Europe (e.g., Russia), and NUS students need to capitalize on that. Hence, NUS students can expect more overseas programmes to these emerging regions in the years ahead.

  14. Sir,

    I am a graduate student from Physics Department. With my email, you may trace my graduate and undergraduate records. I am really glad that Sir opened up a channel for direct interaction. Otherwise it seems like nobody in the administration cares about what is going on the ground.

    I think some form of transparency in the system will be welcomed by us students.

    1) When PM Lee said in his national day rally that there are only 18-20% foreign students in the universities here, we are not convinced at all. There are subsequent forum articles in Straits Times asking the numbers to be revealed, but nothing happened. I sent an email to Registrar and the reply was that they will bring it up during their meeting and there is no more follow up. If you know the sentiments on the ground, then the importance of transparency should be apparent. Can the enrollment of students broken down into “locals” and “non-locals” be revealed?

    2) I think we are already having quite enough of global experience (or tolerance) here in nus. Hearing technical stuff spoken in non-English almost everyday for the past 4 years is very sufficient global tolerance for me.

    1. I detect some cynicism in your posting. I am not able to disclose the exact numbers. But at the undergraduate level, just about 20% are international students. At the full-time graduate level, about 70% are international students. So for full-time students, including undergraduate and graduate students, about 30% are international students. Your perception of many more international students may be due to the clustering of students in particular locations and at particular times. Feel free to drop me a note if you want to discuss this.

  15. I have noted that some postgraduate students, from China in particular, know very little English. I worry that this will be a great impediment to an international career. The persons in question seem to be with Mandarin speaking supervisors and only interact with Mandarin speakers.

    1. Hi Researcher,

      I gathered that you could be referring to my post, so I make this reply. I think you missed the key point, if you are doing research at the graduate level, you will realise that NUS is simply SWAMPED with them, to the extent that,

      1) teaching quality drops due to language problem,

      2) they overwhelm WHOLE research groups that the communicating language is biased, the choice of invited speakers is biased even the choice of buffet food is no longer multicultural.


  16. I have two gripes:

    1) Many of my close friends are foreign scholars (SIA scholars or other MOE-sponsored types) and hence I know from alot of them that many do not serve out their bonds in Singapore.

    If they did their JC and uni here they would need to work for 6 years in any company, if only uni then they would only need to work for 4 years. However, the common trick is to collect enough rejection letters from companies in order to get their scholarship bonds waived. We subject our local scholars (PSC or whatever) to such stringent contracts, but why is it that the same standards are not applied to these foreign scholars? Or if you want to advance some environmental deterministic argument, then why not make the scholarship contracts to local Singaporean students less stringent? I’m sure many of my peers would be happier working at Silicon Valley or Wall Street than serving their bonds in the ministries.

    How much autonomy does NUS have from MOE in this respect? Why is NUS forced to take the brunt of public disapproval and dissatisfaction when in actual fact this is a Ministry/Government policy? I am an NUS student,and I have a vested interest in the good name of my university. Why is MOE being so shady about this?

    2) Hiring of foreign professors. Sometimes we get really great professors, but other times not. I just came from an NUS lecture and the lecturer blithely said that Gayathri Spivak “came up with the idea of the subaltern” — when in actual fact it was Gramsci. Further, the subaltern studies movement was founded by Ranajit Guha, not Spivak anyway. The lecturer managed to condense this whole subaltern studies movement in Gayathri Spivak. Spivak is an “academic rockstar” in India and maybe the US, if you do comparative literature and derrida etc, and it is rather disappointing that this lecturer could not see past Spivak’s celebrity-status and get her facts right.

    This lecturer then went on to say that because “Punjab wanted to leave India” Indira Gandhi had to send the army into Amritsar. In phrasing the issue this way, the lecturer managed to make it seem like the WHOLE of punjab, rather than a section of Khalistan-enthusiasts (who were SUSPECTED of, and not even confirmed of, being in Amritsar)wanted to leave India. Her lecture was full of generalizations which first-year students who don’t know better will just pick it up like an eager sponge and reiterate!!

    In my tutorial classes I often hear first-year students saying things during their presentations like, “Before the British came Muslims and Hindus lived in harmony, but after the British came there was alot of inter-religious divisions and conflicts.”

    I am really quite horrified that this lecturer is so careless with her words! I am also glad that I am taking this class not as a first-year student, for fear of imbibing such careless, inane facts from new lecturers who seem to care more about making their students laugh than making their students learn.

    So in addition to the previous two comments, it’s not just about accents and command of English, but about the quality of the lecturers etc! Who exactly decides which applicants for fellowships/visiting professorships get through? Should they not be held accountable too for their decisions?

    1. I am sad to learn that there are some who are taking advantage of our system. If you have their names, I would be happy to take actions.

      Let me look into your second concern. There can be wide differences in opinions in the humanities. Of course, our professors are supposed to provide a balanced view of an issue and not promote their personal views.

  17. Dear Prof Tan,
    I think this is a great platform for encouraging students to engage with the NUS administration. I have often felt that the NUS admin is very hierarchical and very separate from the student body. It’s encouraging to see so many students respond to your call for comments but I do hope that you actually will take the time to respond to these comments and not let this be an empty call.

    There are a few things that I would like to respond to –
    1) The phrase “Global readiness of NUS graduates” – I find it most curious that you should title the post “Global readiness of NUS graduates” and write about exchange programs therein implying that exchange programmes will equip NUS graduates with “global readiness” (whatever that even means). I will not deny that exchange programmes are fantastic way to increase your exposure to the global issues and provides plenty opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. As a student who have benefited significantly from exchange programmes, I am a strong advocate for students to go on exchange. However, I want to point out that when we go abroad, we embark with our own set of prerogatives that we want to achieve. We see what we want to see and are willing to see. Travelling can hope to, but does not always necessarily open one’s eyes. NUS should encourage more students to go on exchange but it will take more than that to make NUS students ready for the world.

    2) Global is not North America and Europe – NUS uses the word “global” very loosely and almost too readily. To engage the globe does not mean focusing on just North America and Europe which are the top exchange destinations. The IRO has been doing a good job at trying to promote alternative destinations and that’s great! But the choices for exchange are also limited. South America, Middle East, Central Asia, Africa (not including South Africa) are also part of this globe we speak of but is sadly ignored. There are no exchange destinations to these places. Not having a partner university from the region of their interest might even be a reason why some NUS students are not going on exchange. I am aware that there are no plans to have more partner universities which is such a pity. SMU, although a younger university compared to NUS has over 200 partner universities in countries including Jordon, Chile, Kazakhstan. If NUS is worried NUS students might not be adventurous enough and think demand won’t be there, it might be interesting to highlight that there is a substantial number of SMU students going annually to those locations mentioned. Further, supply can create demand.

    3) Limited number of languages taught in NUS – I find it sad that there are so few languages on offer in the Center of Language Studies in NUS. Learning a new language is definitely a key step in helping one to understand another culture. Spanish is a very popular language and yet it isn’t on offer which I find so strange. The summer programme to Mexico is now really popular and many pick up Spanish over in Mexico and want to continue learning it but can’t because it is not taught. The thing about languages is that if you don’t use it, you lose it which brings me to my next point below.

    4) Language programme – When I was on exchange, there was a language speaking programme put in place at the residential colleges, (the RCs are similar to those in UTown). Where I stayed at, there were 5 Language Houses as they called them – French, Chinese, German, Arabic, Spanish. Each language programme was headed by a graduate resident living there who was also a fluent speaker or was pursing the language at a graduate level. Every day was a different language and one hour sessions would be conducted in the lounge of the residential college where games, conversation hours would be held to help students to improve their speaking ability. Students could also gain academic credit for their participation in this programme. Perhaps something similar could be done in UTown, only we get the NUS exchange students involved. They don’t have to be the ones running the session, but if we get them involved then it can help to promote local-exchange students interaction.

    5) Bringing the world to NUS – NUS tries to do that not through the exchange students in NUS but by also organizing events such as Middle East Day. I really like the idea behind it. It all sounds like a great idea to introduce the student population to the region…only it does not feel like the students were the target audience. At the recent Middle East Day, there was not a lot of publicity provided for the event and it felt like an excuse for NUS networking session to hob nob with the academics and businessmen who were invited for the event.

    1. (1) I agree with you fully. You are very sensible but not every student would think like you. I would certainly like every student to think like you when they embark on an exchange.

      (2) We are partners with about 180 universities in about 30 countries, and we are including many more universities. We used to have many more, but we discontinued those which we felt did not provide good value for our students. I agree that we lack partners in Latin America, Middle East, Central Asia, etc. The IRO is working hard to add more universities in these regions.

      (3) I agree that we should offer some languages such as Spanish. I will need to work with my colleagues. Your ideas in (4) are good too, and I will share them with our RCs and Halls.

      (5) The Middle East Day was certainly not intended in the way which you have described. Why do you feel this way? I shall send your feedback to the organisers.

      1. Dear Prof Tan,

        In response to your (2), that IRO is working hard to add more universities in these regions, I do not think that is the case. As early as 2007 I was told by IRO officials that we are not looking for new exchange partners, when I was on exchange in 2010/2011 I was told by a visiting IRO official to my US uni that IRO was not looking for new exchange partners, and student interns with IRO also tell me that the consensus at the top of IRO are also not looking for new exchange partners.

        Perhaps you can clarify with IRO on what their real/actual stand is! Thanks!

        I also agree that Middle East Day was very badly publicized! They did not even send out email flyers to individual departments/ faculties.

        1. I have just checked with IRO – it is indeed true that they are still looking for partners, especially in some of the places which I have mentioned.

          Incidentally, I am meeting the Provost of the American University of Beirut at the end of this month to discuss collaborations.

          I will alert IRO on your last statement. Thanks

  18. Hi Prof,

    I am not sure if you read about Wikileaks. Click on

    In the face of a changed labour market, Singapore may have decided to keep the local university population from increasing beyond current levels.

    No formal announcement has been made, but the remarks quickly set off a buff of excitement among Singaporeans, who worship higher education as a god of success.

    Although I do not have the statistics, it seems that nowadays, being an O level holder does help you find a job faster.

    I had a rough time finding a job after graduation. Many employers screen you for 2 rounds, written tests and if they cannot find a suitable candidate, they re-advertise again. This happened in both public and private sector.

    On the other hand, I managed to find a job quite fast by downgrading my expectations and registered for a temp job in CPF that paid me only $7.00 per hour. In fact, the employer also said that no interview is required and that I need to report for work next week.

    It was also disclosed that more people are pursuing second degrees. Click on

    The news report said that more people are taking up second degrees in psychology and counselling.

    I suspect that this is because these two areas are still not invaded by foreign talent yet. I have some friends who are IT and engineering graduates (whom I befriended at e2i when I was unemployed) but have been priced out of competition until they decided to re-study for a second degree in SIM.

    There is a dire need for more counsellors, social workers and early intervention teachers as advertised in National Council of Social Service and this area is non-retrench-able.

    Therefore, while I admire how NUS is trying to create opportunities by sending students to NOC, exchange trips etc, there will be some students who will be disappointed that in the working life, it is a different story.

    1. Thanks, Edmund.

      The Cohort Participation Rate (CPR) stands at 25% now and will move to 30% by 2015. The CPR measures the proportion of Primary 1 children who eventually gets a place in one of the 3 autonomous universities (i.e., NUS, NTU, SMU and from next year, SUTD). So, there will be more graduates from the local universities.

      Some graduates have problems securing a job, and unfortunately you fall into this category. I am aware that our Career Centre has been helping you. Well, don’t give up!

  19. Apart from exchange programmes which some students may be hesitate due to modules mapping, CCA commitments, or financial burden, short study trips are another way to gain global readiness.

    I recently viewed a video taken by a group of NUS Geography student who embarked on a experiential learning trip to the Tongle Sap Lake. They slept in the floating houses with the villagers and rowed their boats to explore the place.

    While scholastic articles expose us to well-rounded viewpoints, such field trip will finally “put a face to the name” and enhance the learning experience. It is unjustifiable to map such a trip with one module, but certainly it could make up a percentage of the final grade?

    Last but not least, it would be nice to know coursework graduates like myself are in the blueprint of the administration too.

    1. Must everything come with “academic credits”? An overseas exposure like what you have mentioned can be taken just for the sake of learning. I guess NUS students are just too pragmatic.

  20. Dear Provost,

    Just wondering, does NUS encourage participation in overseas programs among the postgrad student community to the same extent or degree as undergrads?

    I am an Meng student here at NUS, and it seems to me that there just aren’t that many opportunities to participate in these programs if one happens to be a postgrad student, which is quite sad.

    For example, as an engineering student i would absolutely love to participate in NUS overseas college at the Silicon Valley. The valley has a unique startup culture, and is a hotbed of ideas at the forefront of technology. I see no reason why a student cannot participate in this programme just because he happens to be pursuing postgrad studies.

    Perhaps this might be asking for too much, but i would urge you to consider opening-up the overseas college program even to part-time post-grad students. Many part-time postgrad students (especially in science and engineering) have day jobs at labs in NUS, ASTAR, etc where they pursue research that eventually leads to their thesis. Hence in terms of a typical work day, there is no practical difference between a full-time postgrad student versus a part-time one: both of them spend the day working in the lab, and attend classes at night!

    Thank you very much for taking feedback from students!:)

    1. We have our NOC at Bangalore which are meant for graduate students. I must admit that Masters programs are constrained by the time (usually one to two years) which makes substantive exchange of even one semester complicated. Short-term exposures are possible though.

  21. Dear prof tan,

    In addition to some of the points mentioned, i am also concerned that whay only people whith having CAP more than 3.0 are allowed to go for exchange?

    I personally believe going for exchange does help to enlarge my mind and capacity to accept people from other cultures, more importantly learn something from the stint. However, some of us, due to our not so nice results, we are ineligible to even apply.for my case, i had encountered some personal issues and also my slightly more active involvement in school activities have played some part in this.

    Hence, as a graduating undergraduate( final semester), would like to know are there like other criteria that the schools look at in considering applications for exchange, even the student’s CAP is below 3?

    1. I have asked IRO to review this requirement. It was set to ensure that students selected for SEP have less problems handling courses overseas.

  22. Dear Prof,

    I believe that NUS should encourage and prepare students more for graduate studies globally (in other countries).

    For instance, UCLA has a program to prepare students for graduate school (in the field of mathematics). (see

    Currently, NUS students who have the ambition to go overseas for graduate studies pretty much have to rely on their own devices. The application process to US alone is very tedious, comprising of taking up to 3 standardized tests, the GRE, subject GRE, TOEFL. Also 3 recommendation letters are mandatory.

    According to Terence Tao (mathematician), it is good to study at a different place in graduate school. (

    I hope more resources can be invested into this aspect of school, even though the number of people who want to go overseas for further study might not be very high.

    Best regards

      1. Thank you Prof.

        Perhaps a website similar to the following could be set up. ( or

        This could apply to all faculties, not just math or science.

        Why we need a local Singaporean version of these websites is that the application process for international students (from Singapore) and domestic students is quite different.

        Of course, the best scenario is to tie up with partner universities to directly advertise and offer admission to NUS students.

        I make this suggestion for altruistic purposes, I am in year 3 already and would probably not be in time to benefit from this.

        For Singapore to produce a Nobel Prize/scientific achievements, we must actively encourage our Singaporean students to pursue further studies, not just import “foreign” talent.

        I believe that pursuing an overseas graduate education can greatly increase the global readiness of NUS Graduates, some of which will in turn return to benefit Singapore.

        Thank you very much once again.

  23. Dear Prof,

    As I see no one raising this issue, I decided to point out something about the selection criteria for SEP.

    I’m an Arts student who enrolled into NUS based on poly qualification. FASS’ SEP policy discourages students like me from going on exchange from our 5th semester onwards. This is because FASS does not have a compulsory 4-year programme, so the 5th semester would be our graduating semester if we only did a B.A. (without Hons). Should we still wish to go on exchange on our 5th semester, we have to submit a letter with our SEP application, stating that we’ll be pursuing Honours studies and understand that we run the risk of delayed promotion from ARS3 to ARS4/SOC4 and hence delaying our graduation.

    I realised that poly grads like me are eligible to apply to go exchange on our 4th semester only. Due to the faculty’s SEP application cycle, we could not apply to go earlier (3rd sem) because when the application round opened, it was during our first semester and we have no CAP to speak of. Thus we can only apply during our 2nd sem (using first sem’s CAP) to go on exchange in our 4th sem. It was really unfortunate that I did not do very well in my first sem. I’m sure there are also students who needs some time to adjust to university life. Although my first-sem CAP was above 3.0, it was below the 3.5 ‘norm’ required to have a good chance of successful application. Moreover, application in 2nd sem of the year (Round 2) puts applicants at a great disadvantage because many of the SEP vacancies at partner universities are taken up in Round 1 of application (where applicants can choose to go any time next year, unlike Round 2 – only sem 2 of next year). Although my CAP improved to near 4.0 after sem 2, I decided against applying to go for exchange during my 5th sem, given the very-high possibility of delayed graduation even though I intend to pursue Honours. (I’d heard from a friend that it takes a really long time (a semester or more) to map modules over, thus delaying one’s promotion to year 4.)

    I’m not sure if the faculty’s SEP coordinators are aware of this, but I feel it was really unfair and puts poly grads at a great disadvantage. I hope someone can look into this.

    On a side note, some have advised that we can apply for summer programmes instead. To me, it was more expensive in a way if one goes for summer programmes. If the budget required for a SEP (6 months) to a PU is $10k, a summer programme (few weeks to 1 month) to the same university can go up to $5k or more, due to the addition of course fees. Not all summer programmes’ fees are waived, unlike SEP. This is so even for summer programmes at our partner universities! It would be great if we can negotiate with our PU to waive the basic course fees for their summer programmes. 🙂

    Best Regards.

  24. I will review our policies on SEP for non-honours students, and especially for students who joined us through the poly route. As you have pointed out, there are more constraints for poly graduates in NUS.

    We hope to have more summer programmes and we are mindful of the costs. For instance, we are planning more cost-effective programmes, in particular to the South-East Asian region, as part of our strategies for the Global-Asia orientation.

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