Update: (14 August 2019) In the past few years, quite a few people have reached out to me regarding the contents of this post. For new readers, I would like to highlight that as of 2019, the Global Engineering Programme has been rebranded to Engineering Scholars Programme, and the programme has undergone an overhaul. It seems that the administration have addressed many of my concerns below, whether it has anything to do with this post I do not know. I have no knowledge on the effectiveness of these new measures, so read the post with this in mind.
I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time. This is my third semester in NUS, which means that I’ve been through my freshman year already. Studies wise, I’ve done pretty well, by some miracle I was even named the top student of my cohort. But I’m not satisfied.
I’m not satisfied because I feel like my school life has become just this - school. Before I entered NUS, I was accepted into the engineering ‘flagship programme’ - Global Engineering Programme, or GEP in short. The programme offers you a scholarship, and allows you to complete your bachelors degree in three years. By ‘allow’, I mean force. Yes, our engineering ‘flagship programme’ forces us to complete our studies in three years, cramming 6 or 7 modules every semester just to accomplish that. The result? We miss out on the opportunities other students have in terms of enriching our personal lives, work experience, or simply just broadening our horizons. We are unable to complete our internship attachment programme, we are unable to sign up for the NUS Overseas College programme, and some people I know can’t even go on overseas exchange because they have to complete their modules locally, which are only offered in alternate semesters. This is ironic as the programme is supposed to be ‘Global’, but it is the very thing that’s preventing us from stepping out of Singapore. Before we joined, we were also promised mentorship, site visits and special seminars, but none of that has happened. Granted, there has been a few talks here and there, but the site visits were totally non-existent, and mentorship is a bare minimum. Students under the programme are required to ‘overload’ and take more modules than normal every semester, but there is no structure to this and all the timetable clashes have to be sorted out ourselves. We have to be very careful of issues such as modules being pre-requisites of each other, and the pre-requisites being only offered in alternate semesters. A single mistake might cause us to lose our chance to go on exchange. To date, all the people I know who have dropped out of this programme have done so willingly because they can no longer see the benefit in it.
It is not like I am not grateful for the chance to be in this programme. I am, and I appreciate all the hard work our one and only working staff has put in to enrich the programme. I am also immensely grateful for all the friends I’ve made in the programme, without them I probably would have dropped out already. But I just want to raise the question: If this is really our engineering flagship programme, then what incentive do potential engineers have to join this field? The Straits Times recently published an article talking about the ‘high-tech brain drain’ in Singapore. The government wants to “enhance this sector’s appeal among youth and help it retain grads”. But if even our best and brightest are feeling disillusioned and pessimistic about the future of engineering, you can understand why the youth would not want to join this sector, or would jump at any job outside this sector at the first opportunity. To rectify this, I believe a few changes need to be made.
Remove the 3-year requirement to complete the programme
I get it. 3 years mean less financial burden. But weighed against the potential upsides the extra year can bring, I see zero reason for this requirement. Why not make this requirement optional, and let students choose whether they want to accelerate or not?
More enrichment programmes
Given that we’re touted as a ‘flagship programme’, the enrichment programmes we have is really underwhelming. And by underwhelming, I mean non-existent. Not even that, the fact that we have to accelerate even prevents us from joining any external programmes. I would have loved to go on NOC, but given how invested I am in this programme already, I find it hard to just drop out and go ahead with it.
Modules that are specifically targeted for people like us
Ok, let’s say you want to keep the 3-year requirement. At least offer some modules which allow us to clear our unrestricted electives, breadths, and depths without us having to worry about timetable clashes, programme requirements, and such. I have already suggested this to the professor: a good example would be School of Computing’s CP2201, Journey of the Innovator. The module is relatively light, compulsory SU, and provides us with information that cannot be learnt in the classroom. Having such a module would be really beneficial for people who want to accelerate, or just want to experience something different.
When we first joined the programme, we had no idea what to bid for, how to plan our modules, what are the requirements, etc. For other students, it is relatively easier since everything is preallocated, but we had to figure out which module to overload first, which module is a prerequisite of what, and which module can be mapped overseas. Some kind of structure, recommended schedule, or guideline would really help.
I know when I raise this issue to professors, some of them would respond with “You’re so privileged already, what more do you want?”. But that’s besides the point, you can always find someone who is worse off to compare yourself to. What we really need is change; something to shake up the old and weary beast that is engineering. In the startup culture (which is centered around engineering, mind you), everything changes and moves fast, and that is something I think we need to incorporate into the engineering mindset in Singapore. After all, the ability to adapt will definitely serve us well in the future.