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In the land of the Merlion

What started as a medical school with 23 students, NUS has now developed into an i­nstitution that has consistently been ranked among the best in both Singapore and Asia

education Updated: Feb 26, 2014 10:43 IST
Aanchal Bedi
Aanchal Bedi
Hindustan Times

Singapore might be small ­geographically, but its ­educational institutions are among the best in the field of higher education and research. This is due to an excellent higher education system that is ­making its presence felt in the world university rankings. National University of Singapore (NUS) is one of the country’s best-known institutes.

What started over a century ago as a medical school with 23 students, is now a leading ­player in Singapore and Asia. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) placed NUS in the range of 100 – 150 ­worldwide and the best in Singapore. Moreover, NUS ­overtook the University of Hong Kong to become the region’s ­highest-ranked institution as per the QS World University Rankings (2013/14) which ranked NUS 24th within the world. Furthermore, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2013–14) placed NUS at 26th in the world and second in Asia, when its World Reputation Rankings placed it 22nd globally.

With its 16 faculties and schools across three campus ­locations in Singapore – Kent Ridge, Bukit Timah and Outram – NUS aims to provide a ­broad-based curriculum ­underscored by ­multi-disciplinary courses and cross-faculty enrichment. NUS’s transformative ­education includes programmes such as ­student exchange, ­entrepreneurial internships at NUS Overseas Colleges, and double degree and joint degree programmes with some of the world’s top ­universities, ­offering students opportunities and ­challenges to realise their potential. The university boasts of over 37,000 students from 100 countries.

“While finishing my ­master’s degree at the University of Madras, I was looking for research opportunities. A ­well-funded research group, Growing Up in Singapore towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) from the NUS was ­interested in my profile and encouraged me to apply to their graduate research programme. To my pleasant ­surprise I was offered a place with a ­scholarship,” says Ajith Isaac, a student of NUS.

Singapore, says Isaac, is truly a gateway to the culturally rich and diverse Southeast Asia. It attracts a huge number of ­foreign ­students, either on exchange or as full-time students. The prospect of being exposed to the cultural melting pot that is Singapore was exciting.”

Flexibility in the ­undergraduate curriculum which allows students to ­pursue other interests beyond their ­chosen field of ­specialisation, its overseas colleges such as Silicon Valley (USA) and BioValley (USA) and Shanghai (China), and the opportunity to study one or two semesters at one of more than 100 partner ­universities worldwide through the student exchange programme are the reasons attracting foreign ­students to NUS.

“Today’s NUS education offers a breadth of ­disciplines, double degree and joint degree programmes, as well as ­entrepreneurial opportunities at home and around the world. You can combine courses like business administration and communications and new media, computing and business administration, computing and mathematics/applied mathematics, law and life sciences and many more,” says Lily Chan, chief executive officer, NUS enterprise.

With an array of courses offered by the university — from business administration, architecture, arts and social sciences, industrial design, real estate, environmental studies to computing, dentistry, law, medicine and pharmacy — students are spoilt for choices.

As a world-class university, NUS offers an exciting curriculum combining breadth and depth with a distinct global and Asian perspective, where students have the freedom to explore across disciplines and a plethora of extra-curricular and overseas study opportunities. The programmes are:

Student Exchange Programme (SEP)
If you see yourself as a potential globetrotter, then opt for the Student Exchange Programme which allows you to spend six months or more at one of NUS’ many partner universities. This programme offers a great opportunity to learn a new language, get immersed in a different culture, make new friends and develop greater self-confidence. It also enhances your prospects of overseas job opportunities. Through the SEP, you might just find yourself sipping coffee in a cafe in Paris, shopping in New York or snowboarding with your new friends in the Swiss Alps. Now doesn’t that sound enticing?

NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC)
How does the idea of working in an upbeat start-up company, full of vibrancy and dynamism, sound to you? The NUS Overseas Colleges programme gives an opportunity to unleash your entrepreneurial potential in a leading entrepreneurial-academic hub. Places like Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Shanghai, Stockholm and Bangalore could well be the places where you will be working in the future.

University Scholars Programme
If you have the intellect and passion for learning, this is what you need to do. The programme partners seven faculties and schools, and will enable you to meet equally talented peers from various disciplines, who can offer a diversity of views. It also encourages and provides financial support for numerous overseas initiatives to places such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Peking University and expeditions to destinations like the Himalayas, Cambodia and Iran. Housed in Cinnamon College at NUS University Town, USP students will also enjoy a mandatory two years of residential living and learning together.

Special Programme in Science (SPS)
This programme was founded in 1996 to “nurture talent among budding scientists”. It is an intense programme for a selected group of undergraduates with a strong aptitude for science. A string of flexible and interactive modules allow for a more multidisciplinary approach when faced with scientific problems. It also allows students to design their own modules and plan semester-long research projects.

Another student from NUS, Naman Shah feels, “Four years in NUS gave me an opportunity to organise events with the International Relations Committee and represent NUS at a conference in Indonesia. I also received the NUS Overseas Colleges Scholarship which focuses on promoting entrepreneurship. It gave me a chance to work with a startup called BizEquity in Philadelphia and simultaneously take classes at University of Pennsylvania.”

About the course fees and cost of living in Singapore, Shah says, “I am pursuing a double major in economics and ­business ­management with a minor in technopreneurship. I am on a three-year student grant. My course fee is around SG$11,000 per year. The monthly ­expenditure, including housing and living, is SG$1,000. There are various opportunities for ­part-time jobs, research ­assistants and resident ­assistants which offer a monthly stipend of SG$500 or more.”

NUS also has three research centres of excellence (RCE) and 23 university-level research institutes and centres. The ­university is also affliated with 16 national-level research ­institutes and centres.

NUS is well-known for its research in engineering, life ­sciences and biomedicine, social sciences and natural sciences. Research has received a thrust recently in several fields such as quantum technology, cancer and translational medicine, interactive and digital media, the environment and water.

“In India, the competition is fierce and at some level it becomes a matter of chance rather than merit for one to be able to get a position in premier institutions. At NUS, there is a lot of emphasis on honing one’s all-round skills. I have had the ­opportunity of becoming a resident assistant at UTown Residence, one of the on-campus residences, which helped me polish my interpersonal and leadership skills,” adds Isaac.

Career centre at NUS

The centre provides assistance with career planning, job search, professional development and internship

# The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority’s (ICA) student pass entitles international students to seek part-time jobs and internships in Singapore. International students can visit ICA’s website for current information governing student work privileges in Singapore
# Working during term vacations: All international students studying in NUS on ICA’s student pass are eligible to work during term vacations without having to apply for a work permit
# Working during academic term time: International students are allowed to work not more than 16 hours per week. (International students refer to NUS full-time matriculated students. Exchange students in NUS are not allowed to take up any forms of employment or internship.)
# For international students who require a longer period of stay to look for jobs upon completion of their courses may apply for a one-year (non-renewable) long-term social visit pass at the ICA’s Social Visit Pass Unit

Scholarships for international students:

# ASEAN Undergraduate Scholarship (AUS) (for ASEAN nationals, except Singaporeans)
# Science and technology undergraduate scholarship
Interested students should submit separate applications to NUS to be considered for the scholarships given above.
# Scholarships offered by external organisations: Dr Goh Keng Swee (GKS) Scholarship, Kuok Foundation Undergraduate Awards 2013, Temasek Education Foundation (TEF) Sunburst Scholarships 2013 and the Club 21 Scholarship

First Published: Feb 26, 2014 10:38 IST