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Thread: Opening minds in UTown

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2011

    Default Opening minds in UTown

    Opening minds in UTown

    It was dubbed Singapore's version of the residential colleges of Oxford and Cambridge when it opened in 2011. One year on, how is the experiment to combine living and learning working out at the National University of Singapore's University Town, or UTown? Stacey Chia checks into Tembusu College to find out.

    Published on Oct 27, 2012

    IN A lecture theatre one evening after dinner, a group of students and professors debated issues ranging from climate change to ethics.

    On another day, 30 turned up in a cosy lounge for "Master's Tea" with lawyer-turned-actress Selena Tan, who talked about the theatre scene in Singapore, with Tembusu College master Gregory Clancey as facilitator.

    None of these count for grades in UTown, which hopes to encourage academic interaction by having students and professors eat, live and learn under one roof.

    Or in its own words, a "scholarly community", where discussions in lecture halls spill over to the dining hall.

    One year after its opening, is the attempt to recreate the intellectual ferment of "Oxbridge" in Kent Ridge starting to take root?

    A touch of Oxbridge?

    UTOWN was built from scratch with a reported $500 million to $600 million price tag. Occupying the 19ha site of the former Warren golf course, it is linked to the main campus by a vehicle and pedestrian bridge.

    It now has three colleges - Tembusu, Cinnamon and Angsana - with about 1,800 residents. Students who live in UTown typically spend two years there.

    Interaction is the buzzword in UTown, where spaces were designed to encourage that.

    At Tembusu College, for instance, many students share a suite with others.

    Professor Clancey, who teaches history, and five other professors live alongside 600 students from different faculties.

    Classes are kept small, with no more than 15 students, to encourage discussion.

    Even the large lawn in the middle of UTown is specially covered with carpet grass to encourage informal picnic discussions.

    The curriculum is also designed to promote interaction and greater exposure to different subject matters. Each resident is required to take five modules, such as social innovation and climate change, on top of what is required for his course of study.

    The UTown experience appears to be much sought after, judging by the stiff competition to secure a place. National University of Singapore (NUS) provost and deputy president of academic affairs Tan Eng Chye said UTown is oversubscribed, but declined to give application numbers.

    He said: "At the moment (after the admissions period), we are still receiving many inquiries from our students on whether they can apply to the programme."

    And students appear to be adapting to the new style of learning. NUS vice-provost of student life Tan Tai Yong said he has noticed that students are learning to be more vocal.

    He added: "We hope that this is something that will take root and become more normal than abnormal in a university."

    The university will conduct a longitudinal study, stretched over several semesters, to find out if students have truly benefited from the programme.

    My prof lives next door

    MEANWHILE, it has been an eye-opening experience staying in UTown, some students told this reporter, who spent three days, from Oct 10 to 12, in Tembusu College.

    Pharmacy undergraduate Lee Guek Leng, 20, said the five multi-disciplinary modules she is required to take challenged her to step out of her comfort zone.

    The second-year student, who has been living in Tembusu College since last year, said that she tackled issues unrelated to science.

    "I took a bioscience module last year and it was less about the science involved. We discussed the social and public issues related to it, something I may not have been as exposed to," she said.

    Angsana College resident and science undergraduate Rachel Yong, 19, likes the small classsize.

    "You don't feel judged because classes are so small," said Miss Yong, who broke into song halfway through a presentation for her community leaders class.

    For sociology student Sarah Lim, 20, the biggest highlight of UTown life is having her professors as her neighbours.

    Not only does it offer the chance for students to have closer intellectual mentorship, such as being able to go up to them in the dining hall to ask questions, it also allows these teachers to impart valuable life skills.

    Said Miss Lim, who has lived in Tembusu college since last year: "One of the professors organised a wine appreciation session and provided us with the 'proper' type of glass for the 'proper' type of wine."

    The "Master's Tea" sessions, featuring prominent personalities and conducted about once a week, also add another dimension to the whole learning experience, said Miss Lim.

    So far, guest speakers have included writer Catherine Lim and former attorney-general Walter Woon.

    Said Miss Lim: "I'm more confident about going up to talk to a stranger since I've been exposed to so many people from different walks of life, people I may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise."

    A town on its own?

    WHILE the goal is to provide UTown students with a distinctively residential college experience, there are some concerns that it may be seen as an exclusive enclave.

    Unlike at Oxbridge, where all students get to live in the residential colleges, only a selected group of students who meet the admission requirements make it to UTown.

    Professor Tan Eng Chye said the university is looking at incorporating learning elements at other halls of residence.

    He said there are plans for the halls to develop modules which their residents can take to earn credits.

    Currently, classes offered by the different faculties are also conducted in UTown so that non-residents get to spend time there.

    UTown facilities, such as the Education Resource Centre and the upcoming EduSports complex, except those within the colleges, are open to all students.

    Mathematics student Gwen Wong, 20, said there will be students who will inevitably be envious over the newer buildings in UTown.

    But Miss Wong, who lives in King Edward VII hall on the main campus, pointed out: "Not everyone wants this sort of lifestyle or are interested in the modules offered."

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    Background story

    University Town at a glance

    Where: Located on 19ha at the former Warren golf course, it is linked to the main campus by a vehicle and pedestrian bridge.
    Buildings: Four residential colleges, one graduate residence and Education Resource Centre, with the EduSports complex to be completed by the end of this year.

    The fourth college will open next year, and will first house students from Yale-NUS before they start their own residential programme after 2015, when the Yale-NUS campus is completed.

    Co-located with UTown is the National Research Foundation's Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise.

    There are also restaurants, cafes and 24-hour computer labs.

    Cost to build: Each residential college costs $60 million to $70 million to build. The entire UTown development is estimated to have cost $500 million to $600 million.

    Price: Single room (without air-conditioning) in six-bedroom suite, $120 a week; single room (with air-conditioning) in six-bedroom suite, $135 a week. Financial aid is available for needy students.

    Facilities: Each building has a dining hall and several seminar rooms. There is also a student lounge on every floor.

    Living arrangements: Each college has about five resident fellows who live in the same block.

    All students are required to pay for the meal plan (about $800 a term, almost double the cost of a meal plan in the halls of residence) which includes breakfast and dinner.

    NUS said that this is to encourage more students and professors to eat together, and for discussions to spill over from the classrooms into the dining hall.

    Learning: Classes have no more than 15 students. Students are expected to take five inter-disciplinary modules. Only two out of the five are graded.

    Admission: Grades are only one factor, and there is no firm grade cut-off. Students have to submit two essays and go through an interview for admission into the residential colleges.

    Total number of residents: 4,100 students and 1,000 researchers.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2010


    Is that a good thing to have a prof being your neighbour, esp this kind of statment coming out from a female students.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2009


    Quote Originally Posted by leesg123
    Is that a good thing to have a prof being your neighbour, esp this kind of statment coming out from a female students.
    NTU has similar arrangement of stay-in professors with students in same block long long ago...

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