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“Grade-free” semester for NUS freshmen

Starting this August, freshmen entering the National University of Singapore will be able to opt for a "grade-free" first semester for the academic year 2014/2015.

SINGAPORE: Starting this August, freshmen entering the National University of Singapore (NUS) will be able to opt for a "grade-free" first semester for the academic year 2014/2015.

The long-term plan is to have a “grade-free” first year for undergraduates to lower stress levels and encourage students to "learn for the sake of learning," said NUS Provost Professor Tan Eng Chye.

NUS’ medical school and Yale-NUS College already have such a scheme in place.

Come August, the university's 6,700 freshmen -- whether they are in Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Engineering, Computing, Science, Nursing, Music, Design and Environment -- will all be able to opt for a "grade-free" first semester.

Prof Tan said: "I think the Singapore system, or at least in NUS, students are too grade-focused. Some form of pressure is good, but too much pressure is not good and not healthy. What I hope to do with this ‘grade-free’ system is to remove some of this stress."

For many undergrads, the first year of university is a marked change -- either from the classroom or from national service (NS).

Jeremy Wee, a prospective student, said: "It's a good way for us to warm up our brains again after the two-year break in NS."

Freshmen will still be graded as usual; what is different is they will have the option to take a "Satisfactory" or "Unsatisfactory" grade that will not affect the Cumulative Average Point at the end of their university course.

"The minimum requirement is still we have to pass everything, and we have to be present -- our attendance is taken into account," said Mr Wee. "So I'm quite sure everyone will still work quite hard for it, myself included."

Taking some grades out of the equation has benefits for learning, said Prof Tan.

But recruiters said this does not mean grades no longer count for employers.

Daljit Sall, associate director for IT at Randstad, said: "They obviously look at grades, but as important is the work experiences that undergraduates have. It's not all about being successful in education; it's not the formula for being successful within business. So it's looking at them as a partnership -- grades as well as work experiences."

And so, another change that NUS is implementing is to get NUS engineering and computing students go on industry attachments in their third year as a graduation requirement, starting with students who are admitted in August.

The long-term plan is for all NUS undergraduates to go on internships, and is part of an overall move to get students more ready for the workplace of the future, said Prof Tan.

The NUS Career Centre will be a key part of that effort. It will be beefed up with more counsellors, human resource experts and consultants, to help students as well as graduates with internship and job placements. 

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