Singapore's first liberal arts college will move into a new 63,000 sq m campus by July and take in more students.
The Yale-NUS College campus in Dover Road comes with a price tag of $310 million and will be fully funded by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Government.
The campus includes three residential colleges, three dining halls, 22 faculty apartments and 1,000 student rooms. It will house a black box theatre, science laboratories, and art and dance studios, among other facilities.
The college, a tie-up between US Ivy League institution Yale and NUS, is now based temporarily in NUS University Town.
It will continue to increase its number of students, with a third batch of 190 next year, up from 177 this year and 155 last year.
It is on track to reach an annual class size of 250 students over the next few years, going by the strong demand from students who want a broad education, its president, Professor Pericles Lewis, told The Straits Times earlier this month.
It attracted more interest for its latest intake this year with 12,000 applications, 600 more than last year.
Its students take common courses in the first two years and focus on a major in the third, choosing from subjects such as urban studies and economics. The wide-ranging curriculum seems to be at odds with the current push for specialised skills.
The Government accepted recommendations in September to boost prospects of Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates, urging them not to chase university degrees blindly.
In response, Prof Lewis said the "wide range of academic possibilities" in Singapore cater to different parts of the labour market.
"In a different part of the economy, there's hands-on training for certain kinds of jobs," he said. But many jobs "don't require narrow technical training but require breadth of knowledge and applying knowledge of different fields".
Liberal arts graduates have an advantage in areas that require creative and flexible thinking, he said. "That could be anything from being a research scientist to management consulting to financial industries, to being a curator of an art museum."
He added: "The economy itself is changing, so it's not like you train for a job and the degree you get determines what job you're going to do for the next 50 years."
Professor David Oxtoby, who heads leading liberal arts college Pomona College, agreed. "It is more important now than ever for students to study liberal arts", despite concerns about liberal arts graduates struggling to find jobs in the United States, he said.
Some smaller liberal arts colleges have shut or shifted their programmes to applied fields. Some think "it's hard to find jobs so, therefore, you need to train very narrowly for a particular job", he said. "That's exactly the wrong conclusion."
Surveys show that employers want students who can think critically and effectively, he added.
There is great demand for liberal arts programmes from Asian students in the last few years, he said. Pomona College's major sources of international students include China and Singapore.
Yale-NUS' expansion is good news for School of the Arts student Joell Tee, 17. "Liberal arts appeals to me because I want to be exposed to both the humanities and sciences," she said.
"The university degree is just a title. What's more important is pursuing what you enjoy and being able to apply the skills you learn after that."
This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014.
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