More Opportunities for Honours

AY2014/15 will be an exciting year for NUS. We have in the pipeline several new initiatives to deliver a comprehensive and well-rounded education that equips NUS graduates with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and attributes for life and work in the 21st century.


I have already shared extensively on my blog about the grade-free first semester which is to be implemented next month for the incoming students. Integrated industry attachments, an enhanced Career Centre and the launch of the Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) are some of the other initiatives that our new students can look forward to. RVRC will offer a unique experience which combines the benefits of residential college learning with career preparation and student exposure to industry. I hope to write about these initiatives later.


In conjunction with these new initiatives, I am pleased to share that from the new academic year, NUS will be introducing two further changes to the undergraduate education system.


These changes will apply to new cohorts of students who are admitted from AY2014/15 onwards. The good news is that it will also be retroactively extended to two existing cohorts (i.e., the AY2012/13 and AY2013/14 cohorts) as no students in these cohorts have graduated prior to 30 June 2014.


First, we will be increasing the opportunities for undergraduate students to pursue the Honours degree. This is in line with the increasing number of academically qualified undergraduates at NUS, as reflected in the University Admission Scores of applicants admitted into NUS. Indeed, we are proud that many good students see the strengths and quality of an NUS education, and choose to pursue their university education at NUS. (This year, we are happy to record a significant increase in the acceptance rate, and we look forward to welcoming the freshmen of AY2014/15.)


NUS currently offers two types of Honours programmes in the modular system (i.e., excluding Law, Medicine, Dentistry and Yale-NUS). Some students may enrol directly into Honours programmes at the point of admission into the University (as is the case for Engineering, Computing, Design and Environment, Music and some programmes like Environmental Studies and Pharmacy). For such programmes, students study a four-year curriculum after which the conferment of an Honours degree is based on merit.


We have, for historical reasons, allowed an exit at the end of the third year for Arts and Social Sciences, Business and Science. In addition, for these three Faculties we reserve the Honours degree for our higher performing students, i.e., those who attain a B average at the end of their third year.


The Honours programme provides important added value in preparing our graduates for a rapidly changing work environment. The University has therefore reviewed the CAP requirements, and will give more students from Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Science, and Nursing, the opportunity to proceed on to the Honours track.


With this change, more academically strong students from Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Science and Nursing who wish to pursue the Honours programme can choose to do so. At the same time, they continue to enjoy the flexibility of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree if they so prefer.


It is useful to point out that whether students enrol directly into Honours programmes or are admitted at the end of their third year, the conferment of an Honours degree is not automatic but merit-based. For cohorts AY2012/13 and after, NUS will award Honours degrees to students who have completed a four-year curriculum and have achieved a CAP of 3.00 and above.


Second, we will adopt a new nomenclature for our degree classification, similar to that used by major US universities, to more accurately reflect the academic accomplishments of our deserving graduates, who are amongst the top students of each birth cohort. The same high academic standards will be maintained for all our undergraduate programmes.


We are renaming First Class Honours as “Honours (Highest Distinction)”, Second Class (Upper) Honours as “Honours (Distinction)”, Second Class (Lower) Honours as “Honours (Merit)” and Third Class Honours as “Honours”. The CAP requirements for each class of Honours remain largely unchanged from the current requirements.


Here is the new nomenclature with the corresponding CAP cut-offs at a glance:


Honours Degree Classification Criteria (New)
Honours   (Highest Distinction) CAP   4.50 and above
Honours   (Distinction) CAP   4.00 – 4.49
Honours   (Merit) CAP   3.50 – 3.99
Honours CAP   3.00 – 3.49
Pass CAP   2.00 – 2.99
Bachelor’s Degree Classification
Pass   with Merit CAP   3.00 and above
Pass CAP   2.00 – 2.99



As the Faculty of Law’s class of Honours nomenclature are specifically referenced in legislation, the Faculty of Law’s Honours nomenclature will remain status quo for now.


High standards and quality have and will always be the hallmarks of an NUS education. Our high standards will continue to be upheld even as we consistently admit the majority of top students in each birth cohort.


I am confident that these are positive changes in NUS’ education system for our students, and I hope you can join me in looking forward to all these exciting new initiatives.


  1. Will there still be a compulsory Honours thesis with a minimum of a A- grade to achieve First Class Honours?

  2. Dear Prof,

    I would like to inquire on the reason as to why students who matriculated in AY 2011/12 are not affected by the revised Honors Degree criteria?

    Thank you.

  3. We have removed the A- grade requirement (for the Honours Project) for the highest class of Honours.

    Unfortunately, quite a number of the AY2011/12 students have graduated, and that is why we did nor applied the revised criteria to the AY2011/12 cohort of students.

  4. Dear Provost,

    Many colleges will try to tackle or prevent grade inflation. With the grade-free first semester system, as well as the lowering of honours requirement, it seems like NUS is encouraging grade inflation. Why is this so?

    Thanks and Best Regards,

    1. The grade-free first semester is established for a different reason – to make undergrads choose modules they would otherwise not have chosen, as well as to allow a smoother transition (especially for males who have completed NS) into the university environment.
      The lowering of the honours requirement does not affect grades, though it would allow more students to graduate with a basic honours degree.

  5. What was the reasoning behind the removal of the requirement of an A- on the Honours thesis for the highest Honours division?

    1. The grade of the honours thesis is already included into the CAP, and there is no need to have it double-weighted. Further, many departments have allowed the honours thesis to be replaced by other modules, capstone projects or internships.

  6. Looks like a change that will be welcomed by people who are at the lower end of the curve and hated by people who are at the higher end of the curve. 😉

    Of course, since I just graduated this change isn’t exactly all that relevant to me personally, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

    Some observations I’d like to make, though:

    1. Due to the broadening of PwM/3CH from 3.2-3.5 to 3.0-3.5 the numbers of these will now increase. This may have the effect where employers who previously took 3CH might now eschew the 3CH tier entirely and take only 2LCH+ as part of the grade inflation effect.

    2. Due to the removal of the honours thesis A- requirement, the numbers of 1CH will now increase. This may have the effect where some employers who previously took 2HCH+ may now take only 1CH.

    There are concerns as to whether there will be a local grade treadmill effect, though these changes would almost definitely be beneficial to students intending to go overseas (as overseas competitors tend to come from entirely different university systems). That is to say, some grades will be worth relatively less in a local context after the changes than they used to be – so students with lower grades may have an easier time getting employment than they used to but people with higher grades may have a more difficult time. This particular point will probably have the greatest effect on how happy students are to receive the changes.

    There may be a disproportionately negative PR fallout to expect given that even though this does objectively benefit people at lower grade levels more, people here tend to believe that they will get the higher grade levels – and their response will tend to be be based on the assumption that they now hold a ‘devalued’ FCH. The effect is mentioned in the income inequality segment of John Oliver’s show, and is applicable by replacing every instance of ‘income’ with ‘grades’.

  7. Prof,
    Maybe can allow those who just graduated in 2014 with CAP above 3.0 to come back to do honours?
    Thank you

    1. It is always difficult to effect changes to the system. For every new policy that we implement, or if we are to tweak any existing policy, a cut-off has to be made at some point. There are always many considerations (legality, feasibility, parity, etc.) and interests to balance. Notwithstanding, we have to continue to improve the education we deliver and offer at NUS. We can only assure that the policies were consistently applied across the cohort, but we are not able to amend the policies retroactively.

  8. Dear Provost

    Is there a reason why the new system cannot be applied to all existing students, regardless of batch year?

    In fairness, as someone has already mentioned, the AY2011/12 batch has been excluded from both the grade-free semester and the revised honours system.

  9. “Unfortunately, quite a number of the AY2011/12 students have graduated, and that is why we did nor applied the revised criteria to the AY2011/12 cohort of students.”

    Dear Prof,
    How about those matriculated in 2012/13 but graduating same time as the 2011/12 batch. They will get the revised honours criteria but not the 2011/12 batch, even though both graduate in June 2015.

  10. Hi Sir,

    I would like to ask… what your vision of true education is? Is this decision in any way decided based upon that? How did you and your team rationalize this decision considering the practical and even moral concerns this change could bring in hiring processes and NUS as an institution/symbol of higher learning?

    Thank you

    1. This is only part of the many changes that NUS is implementing. I have learnt to keep my pieces short so that students will read them. Unfortunately, it had led you to the misconception that we are simply making this change. If you look at my blog pieces, we have writing and comms, career preparation programmes, global programmes, university town residential colleges, industry engagement, etc. And next year, we will have a new General Curriculum. These are all programmes put in place in recent years to better prepare NUS graduates. If you wish to know what has been put in place, please email me. Thanks

  11. Being stuck right in the middle of 2CHL, with a maximum potential of 2CHU, the change does not affect me much, however, I would like to voice out my thoughts on the effects of such change on those at the edges of the honours spectrum.

    Personally, I welcome the move of lowering honours track requirement to 3.2 as it allow more students to do broaden and deepen their understanding of their chosen fields, however, I feel that the removal of A- requirement for 1CH/HwHD is unnecessary and devalues its prestige.

    With the grade-free first semester and the renaming of honours, I believe NUS is steering away from the old ‘grade focus system’. While lowering the honours bar can actually promote greater learning opportunity (3CH is doesn’t really value add very much compared to a PwM), the removal of A- requirement, ironically, does the opposite by causing grade inflation. Value of the classification aside, the only differing between 1CH and 2CHU is only CAP. This discourages people from doing honours thesis (for FASS and co.), because of the heavy workload and 15MC risk, hence directing students away from independent research, which in my opinion, is the crux of tertiary education. Just my 2 cents.

    Thank you.

    1. The choice to do an honours thesis is still there. And some Departments will still insist on the honours thesis (or its equivalent) for HwHD.

  12. I have studied in NUS for many years (both undergrad and postgrad) and in all honesty, I don’t approved to the changes, because I believe it compromises the quality and prestige of NUS degrees. Having recently graduated from the MComp student (Comp Sci specialization) at NUS with a postgrad CAP of 4.55, I have struggled as a computing student during my undergrad days (I nearly failed my programming modules).

    But what I have learned in all my years of struggle is that achieving a CAP of 3.2 is very possible if one puts in a reasonable amount of diligence to their studies. I graduated with a CAP of 3.97 for my undergrad and managed to pull my CAP from 3.5 plus to 3.97 within the last 4 semesters. What transpired during the last 4 semesters was sheer effort and ambition to succeed in my studies.

    With the implementation of a grade free first semester, I can imagine it would be a lot easier for students to attain a higher CAP. I would definitely have attained an Upper Honours if the grade free first semester was implemented during my time. So the point I am making is, why is there a need to drastically reduce the 3.2 requirement for Honours to 3.0 as well as remove the A- requirement for thesis?

    I honestly feel this is unfair to the students who have put in effort to attain their academic accomplishments despite the odds. And this also applies to those who fought to make the current minimum Honours requirement of 3.2.

    Let’s not make a mistake about this. The best things in life are hard to attain, but the rewards are sweet. And that’s why they are worth attaining and fighting for. Simply lowering the bar is not respecting the efforts of the predecessors who fought to attain the standards.

    In any case, these are my thoughts. I have rarely been a fan of soft policies, especially for a small country like Singapore. I always believed that a country’s strength is defined by how tough and rigorous its people are. Lest we forget, Singapore was built by a tough but lesser educated pioneer generation.

    1. As explained above, the grade-free system has been established for a totally different reason.
      The system in Science, Arts and Social Sciences and Business is different from those in the other Singaporean universities. We could change these programmes into 4-year programmes (like the other universities), and there will not be this perception of lowering standards. However, we still think that the 3+1 system is good for students, but we need to tweak a little to maintain parity.

  13. Let’s put things in perspective and not be crabs in a basket. Yes, the effort involved in beating off the competition and graduating with a first class degree will remain prestigious, but do consider what the grading system is like in other countries.

    The UK rarely awards third class honours degrees because the bulk of their students somehow attain second upper/lower degrees. (This applies to first, second and third-tier universities there.) Almost 90% of students from Oxbridge attain a second upper, and seeing that NUS aims to place itself in the lofty heights of such colleges with a student intake of similar quality, why even bother with the bell curve? The new NUS grading system frees more people who could go on to achieve greater things without being held back by a lack of honours, which is increasingly required by many MBA/grad schools/high profile companies all over the world.

    Also, I’ve heard that many unis in India award first class degrees to about 75% of the cohort, with grading not based on a bell curve. With less than 10% of NUS grads obtaining first class honours, and less than 20% getting second upper, we are clearly placing shackles on those who are unable to escape such a rank-based grading system. Or have the top 20+% of local students who even make it to a local uni (and do not obtain a second upper degree) suddenly grown a lot less capable than their peers who were lucky enough to be rejected from NUS and had to pursue an overseas education?

    So, let’s give more of our NUS grads a chance to make it at least elsewhere in the world. After all, I am confident that even the lowest scorers in NUS would probably have been capable of at least a second lower honours degree in any overseas university.

  14. Dear Provost, please consider extending the new change regarding conferring the equivalent of a 1st class honors to students from the AY2011/2012 batch if their CAP is above 4.5 even though a grade of A- or above for FYP was not attained.

    While we are but a handful of those who have not graduated, we are still part of the existing batch of students in nus, please do not leave us out of these new changes. It saddens me that having put in so much effort to maintain a cap above 4.5 over the past few years, those who get less than an A- for fyp will be given a 2nd upper hons and that students from subsequent batches facing a similar situation will be awarded with a 1st class which can really make a difference when trying to apply for jobs/ scholarships for further education.

    Yes it made sense to distinguish those truly deserving of a 1st class hons in the past but since this criteria is going to be scrapped, why leave us out of the changes that are meant to benefit all students?

    While not all the beneficial changes can be implemented in time to apply to the batch of AY2011/2012, please reconsider your decisiom to exclude us from the remaining changes that could really make a difference for those of us still continuing our honours.

    Thank you.

    1. I empathize with you. But as I have mentioned earlier in my response to #11, we need a cut-off date. For all cohorts, we have to apply the rules consistently to maintain parity.

  15. I feel compelled to write a response to Anonymous, not simply because we’re in disagreement fundamentally in principle, but because his justifications for these policies are terribly flawed.

    There are three points I want to make in response to his arguments.

    1. Your analogy about not being crabs in a basket is precisely what this recently implemented NUS policy is accomplishing. It drags the “crabs” at the top of the basket to the same level as the crabs in the middle level. The response by Student from the AY2011/2012 batch clearly illustrates this issue. Why should someone from his batch accept that another person from a slightly later batch would accomplish higher honours by pure virtue of the said policy with the exact same accomplishment on the transcript?

    2. Your comparison with Oxbridge or even the IITs of India with NUS is totally inappropriate. First of all, the admission competitiveness to these colleges is far more intense as compared to that of NUS. But also important is that their policies are highly consistent and not suddenly abrupt that affects their existing alumni as compared to this recent NUS policy. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has himself acknowledged in his book hard truths that the rejects of Tsinghua and Beida can easily score a First Class Honours at our institutions.

    3. You want more opportunities or pursue MBAs at the top colleges? Simple. Work harder. As a student formerly struggling on the left to middle tier of the bell curve, I can assure you that getting at least a 3.2 is very very possible if you put a little more diligence to your studies. My poor grades reflect my lackadaisical attitude, as I did not pay much attention in lectures, studying at the last minute, poor effective studying techniques and etc… Perhaps if you had spent more time in the library, or paid a little more attention in class and studied consistently, you will not be one of the unfortunate souls worrying about a bad transcript. With the implementation of a grade free first semester, plus increased opportunities to excise the S/U option, I have to state that if you cannot even accomplish a 3.2, then obviously you are either choosing the wrong course that you’re not passionate about, or you plainly are not cut out for it. Then what is the point of proceeding to honours? Isn’t it’s better to find a major that you’re passionate about and reasonably good at than simply getting the honours stamp on your degree?

    Personally, I am sick of having worked with a fair proportion of “leeches” who do not contribute to my group projects or produce substandard work. My rates is that for every group project that I take on, there is a 100% chance that 1 or 2 of my group members would consist of these personalities. And Yes, I like to see this number of people being reduced for my hardworking juniors, as opposed to being rewarded by this policy. In addition, the removal of the A- requirement who quite clearly reduce the pressure of students to submit quality thesis that is required for a well deserved First Class Honours.

    PS: To Professor Tan Eng Chye. I am fairly disappointed that this policy was crafted without having consulted the NUS alumni. I understand not all decisions can adopt the same process of soliciting feedback, but surely, a decision of this nature can be applied? Especially when it impacts the broader community of NUS alumni?

    In addition, what is the point of seeking our thoughts on this blog when you have already made the decision and announced it to the press? Quite clearly, this policy can no longer be reversed or even slightly modified in the near future right?

    I’m sorry if I showed any disrespect, but honestly, these are my thoughts on this matter. I am willing to stand corrected if I have made any mistake in my assessment.

    1. “Your comparison with Oxbridge or even the IITs of India with NUS is totally inappropriate. First of all, the admission competitiveness to these colleges is far more intense as compared to that of NUS. But also important is that their policies are highly consistent and not suddenly abrupt that affects their existing alumni as compared to this recent NUS policy. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has himself acknowledged in his book hard truths that the rejects of Tsinghua and Beida can easily score a First Class Honours at our institutions”

      Dear Provost, please exercise some moderation on these sort of comments.

  16. Dear Concerned Student,

    You have made valid points, and while I understand you are trying to convey a point on group projects, perhaps you may like to refrain from emotive and potentially offensive terms like ‘leeches’.

    There were extensive consultations with faculty members, at various forums such as the Board of Undergraduate Studies (which NUSSU is represented on), UCEP, the Senate and the NUS Board of Trustees. (These forums do comprise a significant number of NUS alumni.) I had also met with student groups, as well as major employers. The policies that were announced to the media, were the culmination of the iterative work over the past year.

    1. Dear Professor,

      I sincerely apologize for the use of the inappropriate term. I could have used a better term for that.

      Thank you for the clarifications as well.

  17. Dear Provost,

    When we lower the CAP requirement, that means more students are able to do Honors which is great. However, I am concerned about the each faculty’s capacity and manpower to handle the load of increased students doing honors. What is being done? I am currently in my honors year in PS, I find it worrying that there are not enough spaces for Year 4 students for modules currently (as sent to us in an email today). What more when increased numbers of students doing Honors come in? I do hope you will look into this matter!

    Thank you!

  18. Hi there

    I don’t really necessarily believe that having honours helps boost one’s employability in the job market.

    I went to quite a lot of job interviews in public sector and private sector.

    Most of the time, private sector interviewers always ask me my expected salary coz they are spoilt for choice. That might change when Fair Consideration Framework kicks in August but so far, my impression is that they don’t even care about your Honours or no Honours. They just want someone to do the job. In fact, it’s an added burden.
    In my private sector, there is one Singaporean with “Honours” and many people make fun of her, saying, she is a class above others and expect more from her even though she is drawing the same salary as others. It’s an unnecessary burden and attention.

    In public sector, there is not really a mention of my salary expectations because usually starting salaries are above $3K a month so there is really no room for bargaining. Variation comes in between Second Upper or Second Lower

    Previously, I have a few friends who are eligible for Honours and they don’t even want to spend an extra year to do Honours because they believe it won’t make much of a difference.
    They rationalise is that they aren’t going to do research work and having a “Honours” on their scroll is a disadvantage if they choose to switch discipline.

    However, if you are interested in research work, it will be beneficial to have Honours years publications to back it up.

  19. Greetings everyone,

    I just graduated from the faculty of engineering, and in light of the recent discussion surrounding the restructuring of the honours classification system, I am curious to know what the honours statistics of graduating students look like, and how it is projected to change with the amended criteria.

    A breakdown of the honours classification for the graduating class of 2014 (by faculty) would be very interesting to know. If it is confidential, perhaps some approximations can be revealed? I see numbers bandied around by other commenters such as Anonymous (“With less than 10% of NUS grads obtaining first class honours, and less than 20% getting second upper”), and I wonder about the veracity of these claims. I have not come across any official published statistics from the University itself, so if anyone has any information, I’d be grateful if you could point it out to me.

    Thank you very much.

  20. Dear Professor,

    As a recent graduate of NUS, I am concerned if the measures implemented would cause grade inflation, potentially devaluing the certificates of alumni, especially those who have graduated with First Class Honours, or Second Upper Honours.

    Imagine 10 years down the road, and someone who have graduated with First Class Honours gets a puzzled look from an employer who have only heard of “High Distinction”.

    It is something like a student who has “S-Paper Distinction” for A Levels, few people know what is that nowadays, even though it was a great achievement.

    Not to mention if the new implementations lead to First Class Honours and Second Upper becoming more and more common, it gets a bit less worth than in the past.

    In conclusion, this move benefits current undergraduates, but it does have a negative effect on previous alumni.

    Best regards

  21. Dear Sir/Mdm,

    I graduated 2 years ago with a degree in industrial design which is an honours course. Honestly speaking, I am glad to hear about the news on the improvement of the grading system but there are other concerns relating to the issue that the management might want to consider as well which I am not so sure if you did. It’s true that those who graduated from an honours course yet did not manage to clinch any due to the strict system has affected them quite a bit on finding a potential job. But has the management considered this issue from a bigger perspective before the sudden decision to change the system? Would this be seen unfair to those who have already graduated 2-3 years back and if so will there any assistance to these group of people if they are still hanging on to not so ideal jobs? Will the grading system then be seen as degrading NUS standard on the classification of students? How will the people from the industry see this change? And is there any research or survey on such issues done before making such a decision?
    I hope to hear from you soon and wish to see another report addressing on these questions soon if the school has done a thorough consideration and even have solutions to these questions raised.
    Thank you.

  22. Dear Provost,
    I graduated in 1998 with Second Class Honours (Lower) in Sociology from NUS. I noticed that when we write this on our CV, it leaves a bad impression on our potential employers who deem this as a flaw in the student’s results. I am glad to see that Second Class Honours Lower Division is termed now as honours with merit.

    My question is if we can write Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours with Merit), Sociology, 1998 on our CV?

    However it is stated as Second Class Honours (Lower) on our degree scrolls….

    Would appreciate your esteemed view on this. Thanks a lot!

  23. Hi,

    I am a recent beneficiary of this change. My CAP fluctuated from 3.0 to 3.28 to 3.28 to 3.17 to 3.28 in my y3s2. I do not believe that it will dilute the value of honours much. If you think about it, most of my semester CAP is actually above 3.5, but it’s only because of one or two semester where I did super badly due to adaptation issues. Note that I consider >3.5 my normal performance. Therefore, I am very grateful that I can do honours despite making some stupid mistakes in year 1.

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