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In A League Of Its Own ...

NUS plans university town at old Warren Golf Course

Lee U-Wen
Aug 23 2007

IT may be facing keener competition as Singapore plans for a fourth - and
perhaps fifth - tertiary institution, but the country's oldest university
is not standing idly by.

Come 2010, the way undergraduates live and play on the campus of the
National University of Singapore (NUS) will change when its new University
Town - to be built at the former Warren Golf Course in Clementi - opens
its doors.

Think less Kent Ridge living, and more Ivy League colleges.

Put simply, the concept of hostel living will never be the same again,
said NUS' vice-provost for education Lily Kong in an interview with Today.

There will be no more traditionally small dormitory rooms, as is the case
at the six existing hostels at NUS' Kent Ridge campus. Instead,
apartments - complete with living room and kitchen - will accommodate up
to eight students per unit.

The idea behind having a minimum of four students living together is to
"give them that communal living experience" and let them interact with
friends from all over the world, said Prof Kong.

The site - which will house eight new colleges-cum-hostels - will cater to
another 6,600 students and faculty within the NUS family. Currently, about
6,000 out of 32,000 students live on the Kent Ridge campus, which will be
untouched by the latest revamp.

To be built at a cost of $500 million to $600 million, the new University
Town will feature special themes for each college.

While plans are still being drawn up - the winning consortium to build the
19ha town will only be appointed in December - Prof Kong revealed that
four themes being considered are technology and innovation, environment,
health and sports and media.

The new Ivy League model throws up another new term: Master.

These masters - who need not be academic staff - will take on a meatier
role than traditional hall advisers do in running the colleges.

Going beyond a mentoring role, these eight masters - one for each
college - will be more hands-on, in planning college activities, holding
after-dinner discussion sessions with students and setting the overall
tone and ethos of the college. A local and global search is now on for
suitable candidates.

And if you think hostel living is unconnected with studies, think again.

Undergraduates of each college will need to take up modules that will
count towards their general elective requirements. These modules will take
up about 10 per cent of their total course hours.

On how the college courses will be taught, Prof Kong said: "We could have,
say, an English language student who has a passion for the environment, or
a business student who wants to do a module on technopreneurship to
complement his learning. There will be a whole new range of modules for
students to pick from."

There will also be informal learning activities planned too, such as
"language tables" where groups of interested students from all
nationalities try the borscht they have cooked in their kitchens, while
learning Russian customs and language over dinner.

But the college is not just for undergraduates - two separate halls meant
for graduates will be built too.

The whole idea at the end of the day, she said, is to "give students the
freedom to choose the sort of on-campus environment they desire".

"If a student just wants to stay in a hostel, but without the intellectual
or academic element included, it's fine. What we want in the Warren
colleges is for students to see that what they learn in the classroom is
not divorced from other aspects of life. If they have an interest in the
environment, they can take courses on that with other like-minded people.
It will be exciting," she said.

And to ensure ample local participation at the colleges, NUS plans to
impose a 40 per cent cap on foreign students staying at the University

But an Ivy League model of hostel living does not come cheap.

Early estimates suggest that rents will be about two to three times more
than what is charged at a Kent Ridge hostel, but Prof Kong (picture) said
the final price would depend on the eventual winning bid.

Currently, students pay $60 a week to stay in a single-occupancy room and
$40 for a twin-sharing unit.

Explaining the higher rates, Prof Kong said: "The facilities will be quite
fantastic. The courses are new, the academic learning will be conducted at
the college itself, and it will be done in small groups so the interaction
will be intense. We are actively looking to bring in donors for the
project too."

She said that no student would be denied the chance to stay at the
university town because of financial reasons, and that adequate loans or
student aid would be provided.

Secondary 4 student Melissa Chan, 16 - who is likely to be among the first
batch of freshmen eligible to apply for a place in the new colleges - was
excited when told of these plans.

She said: "It should be quite an experience, to actually be in an
apartment setting with new friends, and have professors living nearby too.
I might apply to stay at the media-themed college."