Having students and professors living and learning under one roof has proven so successful that the National University of Singapore (NUS) is expanding the concept further this year.
It has four residential colleges taking this approach, and is adding another in August. The Ridge View Residences at its Kent Ridge campus - currently six blocks of dormitories - will be converted into one.
The addition of Ridge View Residential College, as it will be known, is part of NUS' plan to expand residential learning to the rest of its main campus outside University Town (UTown), where the existing residential colleges are. UTown opened just three years ago.
Unlike the university's six halls of residence, residential colleges are not just accommodation, but have compulsory multi-disciplinary courses for students on topics such as the pursuit of happiness, and out-of-classroom activities. A master and about five faculty members called residential fellows stay at each residential college with students.
Ridge View Residences is next to the University Hall and houses 700 students. It was chosen to be the first residential college outside Utown due to its central location between larger faculties including science, arts and social sciences and engineering. Over the next few months, it will undergo "sprucing up", which will include adding more common lounges, seminar rooms and larger dining spaces.
NUS' vice-provost for student life, Professor Tan Tai Yong, said that if the Ridge View venture proves successful, the university may extend similar learning programmes to another residence, the Prince George's Park Residences located at the eastern end of the institution's campus.
Ridge View Residential College initially will take in 200 students, most of whom will be freshmen. This will rise to an intake of 400 next year, and 600 in 2016, just like at UTown's residential colleges.
The latest news comes amid an NUS survey in which students gave residential colleges the thumbs up. The two-month study of 3,000 students found those who stayed in residential colleges felt they benefited from staying with faculty members and peers, and were able to "grow intellectually" and hone communication skills in small-group classes of about 12 to 15 students.
Prof Tan said Ridge View Residential College will have strong industry tie-ups, through seminars for students to interact with industry leaders, study trips to companies, and a mentorship programme. Students will also take three interdisciplinary modules, two of which are on workplace readiness and writing and communication skills. Some modules can be used to fulfil graduation requirements.
A group of nearly 20 second- to fourth-year students, known as peer-mentors, will also stay on its premises to help guide their juniors and organise social activities, said Professor Adekunle Adeyeye from the Faculty of Engineering, who will be Ridge View's head.
Demand for campus housing is strong, with three out of 10 students who apply to stay in the halls being rejected and three out of five who apply to stay at residential colleges such as Tembusu College and the College of Alice and Peter Tan being successful. The third residential college, Cinnamon College, houses students from NUS' University Scholars Programme. The fourth yet-to-be-named residential college now houses Yale-NUS students.
NUS has some 37,000 students, about 30 per cent of whom stay on campus. A total of 11,000 places are provided on campus, and an NUS spokesman said there is more interest in recent years from local students wanting to stay on campus.
Second-year undergraduate Jean Kwok, 21, who is at the College of Alice and Peter Tan, has taken modules on topics such as hidden communities. She is now studying the role of women in films. The psychology major said: "These modules are very interesting and not offered elsewhere. I also like the fact that everything is so near, in terms of getting help from friends. It's easier to find our professors and we sometimes even dine with their families."
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