CHS Merger – What does it Mean and What have People Said?

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On Sept 23, 2020, NUS announced that it was merging two major faculties – the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FOS), into the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS). Though initially declared to be in its proposed stages, the project has since been approved and is expected to kick into effect starting from NUS’ next Academic Year (2021). From there, it also intends to admit 2,000 students every year, which roughly belies the same numbers that FASS and FOS currently houses.

With its inception, NUS intends to bridge the Arts and Sciences in an interdisciplinary manner, and thereby enhance the resilience and adaptability of their undergraduates’ skills and knowledge. The CHS curriculum allows for greater “cross-pollination” across the Arts and Sciences; instead of advocating for a niche or specialisation, CHS projects a greater flexibility in students being able to choose modules from the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences and Mathematics discipline.

Here’s a rough run-down of the CHS merger:

Common Curriculum

  • 6 General Education (GE) modules
    • Design Thinking (NEW)
    • Artificial Intelligence (NEW)
    • Community and Engagement (NEW)
    • Computational Thinking
    • Quantitative Reasoning
    • Writing
  • 5 NEW integrated modules
    • Asian Studies
    • Integrated Social Sciences
    • Integrated Humanities
    • 2 modules on Scientific Inquiry
  • 2 new interdisciplinary modules (UNRELEASED)

What is the difference between “integrated” and “interdisciplinary”?

→ ‘integrated’ = Arts/Science fused together

→ ‘interdisciplinary’ = Arts & Science, hand-in-hand

⇒ Curriculum aims to cultivate flexible thinkers with integrated mindsets

You can choose to be:

  1. Versatilist
  2. Integrator
  3. Deep specialist
Image credit: CHS website

For more information, here is the latest circular:

← scan the QR code to find out more

Here’s the CHS website:

← scan the QR code to find out more

You can also follow @nus.chs for more updates!

What have people been saying?

NUS’ steadfast decision has resulted in sweeping tides of criticism.

One of the biggest criticisms point to the “hasty” nature of the decision. As previously stated, the project was conceptualised on September 23, 2020, yet was officialised a mere three months later. This can only mean two things: 1) the decision was made privately by NUS and put up for “discussion” only in September, but would have been passed, regardless; or 2) the decision was rushed. As many hypothesised the latter, they have also come to criticise the seemingly quixotic nature of the programme. Many of the above plans – for instance, the incomplete interdisciplinary modules I and II, still hang in the air in terms of its progress, and therefore appeared “idealistic” and “incomplete”.

Speaking of that, this links us to the biggest criticism of the rushed decision, which was the devaluation of one’s main degree. Let’s use the ‘versatilist’ path (see above), where you take a good and relatively fair chunk of the three dimensions here: common curriculum, one’s first major, and unrestricted electives (UE), which all add up to the credits fulfilled for graduation. Though you achieve “cross-pollination” in that sense, this snatches away the depths of one’s main discipline, and fails to dive into the specifics of how such skills may factor into one’s future work and skills. It poses a great concern here, which is whether one can either be a “jack of all trades, master of none” i.e., versatilist, or a master of one trade, and a jack of none i.e. a deep specialist. At best, even the ‘deep specialist’ route, which looks to 67% major and 33% common curriculum, is still much shallower as compared to the typical course. For instance, as a Social Work student, I am expected to graduate with 84 Modular Credits (MCs) in this first major – yet, for an entering CHS student, they are merely expected to fulfil 60. A cutback of 24 MCs is a major decision (no pun intended), with at least six modules being scrapped from an undergraduates’ experience. In other words, all the paths teeter on a precarious point of being deeply specialised or being too general.

This doesn’t just affect the students, but the professors as well. Students have anxiously posited concerns over Professors having to adapt to the “hybrid nature” of such interdisciplinary education, which can pose a strain on manpower. Similarly, this may erode the quality of NUS’ education, which, besides being “more superficial”, can lose its standard in having to accommodate a more generalist education. Unfortunately, since this approach “has not been pilot-tested”, scruples over the efficacies of the CHS curricula continues despite the university’s attempts at incentivising students to join this faculty.

In this aspect of incentivisation, quite a crowd have also argued that the CHS merger might have a self-defeating effect; rather than encourage interdisciplinary education, it might instead, force many begrudging students to take up subjects they have a great distaste for. Looking at how bulky the common curricula is gives me a headache as well.

Above all, the nature of the decision was top-down. Such bureaucratic decision-making has surfaced several implications, one of which looks at the severe lack of consultation from the student body. As a FASS student myself, I did not find out about the CHS until I read the news. It came as a shock.

This does not mean that I, like many other students I have (informally) surveyed, entirely oppose interdisciplinary education. Pitted against Singapore’s shift towards a more knowledge-based economy, society has “demanded more and more” of its fresh graduates, especially in being able to code-switch and handle an array of “soft and hard skills” – of which the Arts and Sciences majors respectively promote.

Following that train of thought, many students like myself do actually believe that interdisciplinary education warrants some hope in sustaining our battle against such volatility. If anything, despite these harsh critiques, some have also come to see the “cross-pollination” benefits of CHS; by allowing the seemingly dichotomous disciplines to conduct complementary work with one another, the interdisciplinary uptake can prove to reap long-term benefits in an economy that continuously shortens the life span of solely hard or soft skills. By fusing these skills, it can enhance the roundedness of an undergraduates’ critical thinking in an increasingly disorienting world. This can help one from becoming outmoded in an ever-slogging, tireless economy.

Yet, such justifications do not detract attention from the one-sided process by which CHS is being built off of: a (hopefully unintentional) exclusion of the students’ views and consultations.

Final Verdict?

With that said, more can be critiqued on the process rather than the motivations underlying  the CHS merger. Once more, the main gripe I have is the lack of consultation with the student body; despite the importance of a CHS curricula and its possible existence, its implementation has fallen short by – oddly enough – leaving out the very people who would be partaking in it. Despite such harsh criticisms, it is with great hope that such criticisms can wring stronger, “transparent” procedures that benefit the student body and officials in lieu of the future we share.