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NUS, SMU, NTU refining admission of students under Discretionary Admissions Scheme

This comes as the universities prepare to take in more students under the scheme - when the current cap of 10 per cent allowed for discretionary admissions goes up to 15 per cent next year.

SINGAPORE: Three of Singapore's autonomous universities are refining the way they admit students under the Discretionary Admissions Scheme, which looks beyond a person's academic achievements.

It comes as the universities prepare to take in more students under the scheme, when the current cap of 10 per cent allowed for discretionary admissions goes up to 15 per cent next year.

National University of Singapore (NUS) is offering 7,000 places for the coming academic year, but it has received four times the number of applicants. While it has started handing out offers to those who made the cut based on their grades, about 1,800 students who did not are undergoing interviews to be considered for discretionary admissions this year.

NUS has been evaluating and admitting more students under the scheme over the years. Last year, it evaluated 1,600 students, 400 more than 2014. 670 of them got in, 70 more than 2014.

With more students expected to be considered for discretionary admissions, the process at NUS may be refined.

Said Professor Tan Eng Chye, deputy president of academic affairs at NUS: “We are evolving; for instance, we have gotten alumni to help us with the interviews. I find that very useful because the alumni have a lot of experience in sizing up people and candidates, and they ask very useful questions.

“We also provide more data on what to look out for and if the numbers get to be big, we may decide that maybe we can have sort of a test first - not an academic test per se, but perhaps a test to look at other non-academic aspects of that person. It could be an aptitude test.”

Prof Tan added: “Exercising flexibility is one aspect; you also have to be fairly sharp on what to look for - it is not simply: 'OK, meet the numbers.' Our interest is to look for attributes of the applicants that would make the student community more interesting, more diversified, and enhance the interaction within the student community.

“Those who can adequately and can eloquently convey their passions and interests - that would be advantageous. But we also have to look out for students who may not be able to communicate as well, but yet they have the potential for us to groom them to be able graduates.”

At the Singapore Management University (SMU), discretionary admissions currently form about 5 to 8 per cent of the annual intake. With the higher cap of 15 per cent for such admissions next year, the university will have "more leeway" when assessing students.

Professor Pang Yang Hoong, vice provost for undergraduate matters and student development at SMU, said: “For SMU, looking at students with other qualifications is not something terribly new because we always been holistic in the way we assess students and their suitability for admission. We will be more flexible.

“(We look for) passion, the aptitude for the course for which we are admitting them into. It would also be ideal if students have demonstrated that they are successful to be in time management, that they also possess resilience and the ability to overcome difficult situations. This will help us to assess if that person has got the resilience and the determination to do well in the programme.”

SMU is expecting more polytechnic graduates to apply through the discretionary route with the cap being raised to 15 per cent of the annual intake.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will also "broaden the criteria", to give more people a shot at securing a place. It will favourably consider those who possess "enthusiasm and relevant work experience".
Professor Kam Chan Hin, senior associate provost for undergraduate education at NTU, commented: “Normally, they will look at other achievements that they have - whether in sports, in arts … or even if they are very passionate about community service, leadership. So these are the things that we usually look for.

“We are going to encourage all the schools to broaden the criteria, to allow more people who have a very strong passion, to be given the opportunity to be interviewed. We should be more adventurous, open it a bit more and ask more questions, outside of the usual parameters, and if you find somebody who is really very interesting and very passionate … give them a chance.”

NTU had evaluated 1,400 students under the scheme last year and about 600 were given a place.

All three universities said that even as they exercise flexibility, it is still important for students to show that they possess the "adequate academic competence" to go through the rigour and demands of a university education.