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Singapore — Adult learners challenge

EducationWorld November 2019 | International News

Tan Eng Chye

Bringing large numbers of older graduates back into classrooms under a radical lifelong learning programme will test the teaching abilities of staff, a university president has admitted.

All undergraduates and postgraduates of the National University of Singapore remain enrolled for 20 years from the point of admission, making all current and future students automatically eligible for NUS’ 500 continuing education courses. All of NUS’ 300,000 or so alumni will also be offered the chance to study these courses on a heavily discounted basis — with graduates able to stack credits to gain graduate diplomas or even undergraduate and Masters degrees.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, the university’s president, Tan Eng Chye, said admitting thousands of adult learners each year presents a new challenge to the university — ranked as Asia’s best for many years — as it has typically not taught older learners on shorter courses. “We will have to learn from other institutions and learn from doing this activity ourselves,” says Prof. Tan, who says the university is “fortunate to have faculty who are equally passionate about teaching older and younger learners”.

A Yale-educated mathematician who has led NUS since January 2018, Tan says that the Lifelong Learners programme — launched in the first August of his presidency — would be most valuable for older graduates who find themselves displaced in the workplace by emerging technologies. “We prepare our graduates well for the workplace, but it’s quite conceivable that a mechanical engineer who has worked in the automotive sector for years finds he or she is no longer needed as the industry’s emphasis moves towards hiring specialists in artificial intelligence,” he says.

Many of the courses available to graduates relate to emerging skill areas in the Singaporean economy, including analytics, finance, digital media, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing, says Prof. Tan, who explains that graduates have been given an individualised online profile showing what competencies they have and where they could improve their skills.

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