Residential Colleges: Shaping Citizens of Tomorrow

Living-learning ecosystems are found in many universities across the world, and are increasingly adopted by more and more universities. What sets them apart from traditional university housing is that the student communities at these hostels take part in academic and/or extracurricular pursuits, formed around a specific theme, outside of their core disciplinary studies. They are credited with providing a more holistic university experience that combines technical knowledge with real-life experiences and skills. The Residential College (RC) programme in NUS, too, was implemented with this objective in mind. Offering four residential housing options, the NUS RC programme infuses the best practices from overseas living-and-learning programmes with a Singaporean flavour. Read on as we explore the different RCs in NUS and what they have to offer! 


College of Alice & Peter Tan  

The College of Alice & Peter Tan was previously known as the Angsana College, named after the Singaporean heritage tree of the same name. The Angsana tree still features on the RC’s crest, symbolic of the RC’s commitment to nurturing many talents and qualities, much like the Angsana tree’s role in sheltering and nurturing various life forms.  


College of Alice & Peter Tan, or CAPT for short, is located within the University Town complex. With its characteristic maroon and golden crest, this residential college is designed around the themes of active citizenship and community engagement. There are various approaches to reaching out to communities. You could choose to go the charity route, which focuses on one-way giving back to the less-privileged groups or the service-learning model, where you provide a service to a community and analyse their needs through the experience. “At CAPT, however, we place a strong emphasis on a community engagement model. You are engaging with the community deeply to learn what their assets and strengths are,” explained Dr. Kankana Mukhopadhyay, Senior Lecturer and Resident Fellow at CAPT. “The vocabulary is very consciously incorporated in all aspects of classroom and out of classroom learning. We are not here to serve, help or raise funds. Students are encouraged to build a critical consciousness of what active citizenship means by engaging with marginalised communities. Where are my privileges and what are my responsibilities: these are the kind of questions we want students to ask themselves.” 

Dr. Kankana, who joined the college in 2014, describes the student community as being hardworking and creative. “I have no hesitation in saying that the culture of CAPT is strongly shaped by our students,” the proud CAPTain shared. For her, CAPT is a place for students to be bold and outgoing with their ideas, even if they fail and have to try again. “It’s been as much of a learning experience for me as it has been for the students.”  

Undergraduate life is definitely a very precious time in a student’s life as they transition into adulthood. There is a lot of unlearning and re-learning involved in the process. “Tertiary education goes beyond just being trained in your discipline. This education is about being able to critically question and process complexities,” Dr. Kankana said. She encourages all students to consider what they would like to get out of their time as an undergraduate in NUS and make a choice that aligns with their values! 


Dr. Kankana catching up with CAPT alumni. 

(Credits: CAPT Alumni) 


CAPTains on a study trip to Nepal.
(Credits: CAPT STEER Nepal 2023 Photography and Videography Team) 



An ORCA is the mascot of RC4, the youngest residential college in UTown. The name stems from “One RC4”. ORCA stands for Open, Respectful, Caring, and Appreciative, reflecting the values of RC4. 


Small systems, big hearts: so goes the tagline of RC4. Located within UTown, RC4 has two focal themes: systems thinking and more recently, entrepreneurship. From its beginnings at MIT in the 1950s, systems thinking is about zooming out of looking at a problem as a lone-standing issue and considering the processes that influence and inform the problem at hand. While traditionally taught in Engineering departments, RC4 takes the systems thinking approach to every problem and discipline we face. “My studies aren’t going so well. So you think the solution is to stay up late and catch up on work. But what happens as an after-effect? You are more tired and stressed out leading to weaker grades,” Dr. Lynette Tan, Director of Studies at RC4, explained through a very simplified example. “The idea is that a single action can have long lasting repercussions and must not be seen in isolation. At the basic level, it is a concept that can be applied to every field,” she added on.  

A newer area of interest for the RC4 community, following its focus on systems thinking, has been on Technology, Innovation and Enterprise. The residential college is headed towards encouraging entrepreneurial efforts by students guided by a systems thinking approach in the coming years. Recently, RC4 launched two new courses emphasizing community engagement through systems thinking, facilitating social cohesion among Singapore’s aging population by involving RC4 undergraduates, seniors from Active Ageing centers, and secondary school youth in an intergenerational and tri-generational co-creation. 

“The students at RC4 are warm, welcoming and keen to learn new things,” Dr. Lynette, who has been involved with the college since its beginnings, reflected. “When you come into RC4, you have the opportunity to be and to grow into the person you want to be. Whatever the cohort is, that’s the direction that RC4 takes,” she shared on the student culture at RC4.  

The most important quality to become an RC4 resident is a growth mindset. You must be willing to learn, fail, and try again. “We want to see that you can fall and then pick yourself back up,” Dr. Lynette said. It goes without saying that every residential college experience also has a focus on community building. “Character builds community. We hope to see students have a good heart, take an interest in the world and are willing to contribute at RC4.”  


Dr. Lynette Tan and students from RC4 during Inter-College Games (2019) when Dr. Lynette ran alongside the residents! 


Sweet moments from a baking session led by Dr. Lynette where she teaches students how to bake brownies, pizza, and pineapple tarts.  


Ridge View Residential College  

RVRC is otherwise known as the “College in Nature”, being surrounded by lush greenery with an emphasis on sustainability stewardship.  


Ridge View Residential College, often shortened to RVRC, is the only residential college located outside of UTown. With its focus on sustainability and workplace readiness, RVRC has nurtured many cohorts of conscious students. At RVRC, sustainability is seen as a holistic connector with not just environmental but also economic, social and cultural significance. Dr. Corinne Ong, Director of Studies and Senior Lecturer at the college shared, “While the formal curriculum under the college is important, we are always thinking about the informal curriculum too. How do we connect the students who live in RVRC to learning beyond the classroom and beyond coursework?.” She continued, “This is where activities that fall outside conventional class timings come into play: whether it is a walk that has a charitable or environmental cause or other outdoor learning opportunities like interacting with our industry partners in Let’s Talk dialogues or industry visits themed on sustainability or workplace readiness, organised by College Fellows.” 

Dr. Corinne noted that students at RVRC are driven and passionate towards the cause of the college, “Even with a lot on their plates, students step up to take up service positions, committee roles or engage in interest groups. These are all very vital to forming a strong community at the college.” Living in a community means that incoming students play a role in nurturing one another and contributing to the development and growth of their fellow  RC residents. By taking on leadership roles and proactively taking part in RVRC initiatives, the students co-create a vibrant student-led community.  

If you are considering applying to an RC, Dr. Corinne advised that students ask themselves whether they are willing to live with, contribute, to, and develop themselves through a community that is passionate towards sustainability and workplace readiness causes. With its focus on experiential and outdoor learning, this residential college welcomes all with passion, drive, and grit.  


Word is that RVRC student leader trainings take place against the backdrop of Marina Bay! 


RVRC’s Intertidal Walk and Clean initiative at Pulau Semakau 


Tembusu College 

Tembusu College was the pioneering Residential College in NUS which started off with a pilot project of just 51 students. 


It all started with Tembusu College. Back in 2010, a pilot programme consisting of just 51 students housed in Prince George’s Park Residences marked the humble yet promising beginnings of the Residential College programme at NUS. Almost 14 years later, Tembusu College is now a thriving residential college located in UTown. “We did not theme our RC definitively. Instead, our programmes and the courses we offer take a strong interdisciplinary approach across a broad spectrum of interests,” shared Dr. Kuan Yee Han, Senior Lecturer at Tembusu College. Dubbed ‘The Home of Possibilities’, Tembusu values the development of each student according to his or her own path through life. From offering courses that explore the intersections between science and technology to out of classroom learning  programmes such as the Urban Farmers, Tembusu College strives to ensure that all residents are afforded an interdisciplinary experience.  

Central to the Tembusu experience has been the student community and their involvement with the college. “The student life experience has really evolved through every batch that has come into our college,” shared Dr. Yee Han. The rule of thumb, as Dr. Yee Han put it, is “don’t do nothing”. Tembusu offers various platforms for students to engage themselves in from pursuing their passions while also supporting them at it. The possibilities are endless in this home of possibilities if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone just a little. Although no longer residing in Tembusu College, Dr. Yee Han occasionally still visits the dining hall for a meal, “The best part about Tembusu for me is really the small informal interactions I have with the students outside the classroom. It’s always good to hear about what the students are learning and experiencing.” 

“I would encourage incoming students to come with an open mind and curiosity to learn. You will encounter new ideas and alternate ways of thinking. RCs are a great avenue to make lifelong friends and interact closely with professors in small-classroom settings,” Dr. Yee Han, who has been with Tembusu College since his graduate student days, added on. The curated and holistic educational experience offered by Tembusu is truly what makes it stand out. 


 A snap from Tembusu’s formal dinner 


 Tembusu Art Week features performances in the lobby by resident artists at the college! 


Kurt Hahn, devoted German educationalist, believed that “there exists in everyone a grand passion, an outlandish thirst for adventure, a desire to live boldly and vividly in the journey through life” and that “this passion must be embraced in wholesome ways”. In a way, this is what the Residential Colleges of NUS set out to do for every student who walks in through their doors. If you are a student looking to explore big, bold ideas and truly understand communal living, Residential Colleges are truly for you. We hope to catch you there soon 😉! 


Psst! Wondering why NUS College isn’t here? NUSC is an honours college with residential components, with students having access to more than 50 majors, minors, specialisations and other programmes, as well as facilities and opportunities across the University. While also having the word ‘college’ in its name, its nature is closer to a faculty. More on NUSC here. 


One Comment

  1. As the inaugural Master of RC4 (for first 6 years), if there is one person I need to really thank for building up RC4, it is Dr. Naviyn Balakrishnan. He literally spent more than 16 hours each day working alongside students on every conceivable matter and excelling in teaching them as well.

    Take a bow, Dr. Naviyn. Though I was your teacher once, there is no much I have learnt from you and there is a lot I owe you.

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