Polys to undergo major upgrade

More classrooms, labs, recreation facilities will be built to keep up with rising enrolment.

SINGAPORE - About $1 billion will be spent on extra classrooms, laboratories and other facilities at Singapore's five polytechnics, to cope with the rising number of students going the polytechnic route.

Over the next two years, the five will also make the social side of poly life more fun, adding cafes and sports and recreation facilities.

Polytechnics are now a big draw, with enrolment rising from 24,800 in 2008 to 26,800 last year.

With the Government expanding the number of university places, and the calibre of poly students improving, more polytechnic graduates are entering local universities. More now see the poly as a viable route to university, aside from junior college.

Currently, about 43 per cent of each Primary 1 cohort go on to attend a polytechnic and the Education Ministry expects this to increase to 45 per cent by 2015.

Not just swelling numbers are driving the expansion. The polytechnics aim to provide high-quality educational experiences for their students, noted an Education Ministry spokesman, adding: "Besides creating more space, specialised facilities and equipment will be upgraded to better prepare students for the workplace."

The 59-year-old Singapore Polytechnic, the oldest, will add new learning facilities for its design school, aero-hub and sports arena, while Ngee Ann Polytechnic will build more lecture theatres and student spaces for collaborative work.

Temasek Polytechnic will add arts facilities as well as new classrooms.

Several polytechnics said the improvements are overdue. They are bursting at the seams as they are taking in more students than they were originally built for.

The newest polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic (RP), opened its doors in 2003 with 800 students. It moved to its current campus in Woodlands in 2006 with facilities for 13,200 students, but reached that target just four years later.

It has already added extra classrooms and facilities - and now has 15,000 students - the most it can squeeze in, said principal Yeo Li Pheow. "In the last two years, I've had to turn away students because I didn't have capacity to take them in," he said.

RP has started construction on a new wing - a five-storey building of laboratories for courses in engineering, hospitality, supply chain and sports science. The building is expected to be ready in the second half of next year.

It is also building an aquaculture facility for marine science projects for its new diploma in marine science and aquaculture to be introduced next year.

Also straining at the seams, Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) has started a $97 million expansion, developing six sites on its Ang Mo Kio campus to add learning spaces, sports and recreation facilities, and activity rooms for co-curricular activities.

It reached its capacity of 12,000 students in 2001 and now has 16,000 students.

It has had to build upwards in recent years to create more classrooms.

The facelift also means the campus buildings will extend outwards and be more visible to the public. It is currently built on undulating ground and much of the campus is tucked atop a hilly rise, out of sight from the road.

With plans to be more visible to the public, the polytechnic, which runs a nursing course, also plans to open its teaching clinics to the public.

Facilities it will add include a two-storey cinematography studio, two large food joints with a total seating capacity of 1,000, new retail outlets and student recreation areas such as a karaoke room and cyber-gym where students can play video games which require physical exertion.

NYP surveyed its students in 2011 and asked for their wish list. They wanted a gym with more equipment, chill-out areas, pool tables and music and dance studios - all of which will be included in the expansion.

NYP students such as Nadiah Mohamed Roselan, 17, who is in the polytechnic foundation programme which prepares students for its diploma course, are excited about the plans.

"I'm looking forward to the new jamming (music) studios. Many students have their own band and I'm thinking of joining one. It would be good to have a place to practise," she said.

Among its new academic facilities that are coming up are seminar-styled classrooms, marking a shift from the lecture-tutorial system to a more student-centric seminar system for some courses, said deputy principal Edward Ho, who is overseeing the development of the campus.

"We hope this will enhance student engagement as they have more interaction and better opportunities for discussion," he said.

He hopes the new facilities will also provide unstructured learning opportunities for the students, for instance, having them take charge of certain facilities. "We plan to let them be involved in the management of facilities so they have a stronger sense of belonging and pride in NYP," he said.

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