- Arnest Lim
A Tale of Two Systems: CHS vs Old FASS
Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Just last year, the National University of Singapore (NUS) went through a drastic change by parking the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FOS) under the interdisciplinary roof known as the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS).
CHS has transformed the way that students attain their degrees but just how different is it compared to the old FASS systems? Let’s find out by taking a look at these two curriculums through the lens of CNM as a major.
Prior to CHS, CNM students could choose to graduate in 3 years with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a non-Honours degree, or move on to their 4th Honours year and graduate with a Bachelor of Social Sciences (B.Soc.Sci.). In the former scenario, students only needed 120 Modular Credits (MCs) to graduate but the Honours “upgrade” comes with an added 40 MCs, bringing the graduation total to 160 MCs.
Under CHS though, all CNM students are now enrolled in a direct Honours programme and will graduate with a B.Soc.Sci. after 4 years. This means that all CNM students are now required to read 160 MCs worth of modules to graduate and no longer have the option to “drop” the Honours programme in favour of a 3-year course.
While the inclusion of a non-optional Honours year is one of the foremost changes that CHS brought about, the alterations to students’ graduation requirements are perhaps the most drastic change of all.
General Education (GE) (20 MCs): Students were required to fulfill the 5 NUS-wide GE Pillars (GEH, GEQ, GER, GET, GES). While GEQ1000, GER1000 and GET1050 would’ve been pre-allocated to them, FASS students would have to pick their own modules under the GEH and GES Pillars.
Faculty Core (20 MCs): Students had to read and pass a Level-1000 exposure module from each of the 3 FASS divisions - Asian Studies, Humanities and Social Sciences, totaling 12 MCs. For CNM students, NM1101E could be counted as the Social Sciences exposure module. Students were also pre-allocated 2 Writing, Expression and Communication (WEC) modules, namely the 4 MCs FAS1101 and the 2 MCs FAS1103, as well as CFG1002, the 2 MCs Career Catalyst module.
Major Requirements (84 MCs): This is where students would really dive into their primary majors, with CNM students having to read a minimum of 20 MCs of Level-3000 [inclusive of the 12 MCs Compulsory Internship Programme (CIP)] and 40 MCs of Level-4000 NM modules respectively, as well as 12 MCs of Level-2000 core modules. This means that most CNM students would have to read around 16 NM modules to fulfil their major requirements.
Unrestricted Electives (UEs) (36 MCs): Complete a Minor, work on a Second Major or just read modules that interest you, this space can be whatever you want. While students can also use their UE space to read more modules from their primary major, there is an 8 MCs limit imposed.
Common Curriculum (52 MCs): Ah, the infamous CHS Common Curriculum, the source of many students’ consternation. Comprising 13 modules, 8 of which are pre-allocated over the first 2 years of study, this takes up almost a third of CHS students’ graduation requirements. To find out more about these modules, check out our reviews right here.
Major Requirements (60 MCs): Students now only have to read 15 modules from their primary major in order to fulfill major requirements, as compared to 16 in the past. For CNM students, apart from NM1101E and the 12 MCs of Level-2000 core modules, they now have to read a minimum of 16 MCs of Level-3000 (excluding the now-8 MCs CIP) and 20 MCs of Level-4000 modules respectively.
UEs (48 MCs): As with the old FASS system, students are free to use their UEs however they want. The difference is, students can now completely fill this space with modules from their primary major, with absolutely no restrictions. That said, do take note that CNM students only have 40 MCs worth of UEs because of our CIP, so plan your UEs wisely.
What does CHS bring to the table?
While the extremely sudden implementation of CHS has garnered much criticism from students, there are actually quite a number of merits to this new academic model. For example:
Begone, GE Pillars!
Till now, clearing the mandatory GE requirements has been a pain in NUS students’ necks, perhaps even more so after the number of Pillars has been increased from 5 to 6 (GEA, GEC, GEX, GEI, GEN, GESS). Thankfully, this is no longer an issue for CHS students.
One of the best parts about the Common Curriculum is that it covers all 6 GE Pillars so you don’t have to worry about finding modules to fulfill these requirements. Also, since most of these modules are pre-allocated, we’re exempt from the rigours of ModReg so you don’t have to worry about getting “ModRekt” (a phenomenon that we might write an article about soon).
The simplicity of changing majors
CHS was spawned from NUS’ current trajectory of having interdisciplinary learning. To drive this point home, it’s now much easier for students to change their major, not just within FASS but also to FOS. In the past, transferring to another faculty was a huge hassle and even now, students looking to transfer to faculties outside of CHS are in for an uphill administrative battle.
However, now that both FASS and FOS are under CHS, the only thing students need to do to switch majors is to indicate a different major in their pre-semester Academic Plan Declaration. Up till the 5th semester (otherwise known as Year 3 Semester 1), students are free to change to whatever major they want and explore the academic spectrum within CHS. If you so choose and are confident that you can clear the requirements, a CNM student could become a Chemistry student the next semester.
Added ease to reading a Second Major
Prior to CHS, Second Major requirements were usually only met after reading 40 or even 44 MCs worth of modules (10 or 11 modules). This meant that the 36 UE MCs would be completely used up and then some, with students having to go beyond 160 MCs just to read a Second Major. Most students will tell you that overloading isn’t easy so it’s great that CHS has erased this problem.
With the increased UE space, coupled with the fact that all Second Majors now only require 40 MCs, students can now complete a Second Major and still have room to spare. However, CNM students should take note that since we only have 40 UE MCs, reading a Second Major will take up all our UEs.
More UE freedom
An increased UE space has now given students more freedom to do whatever they want. Be it reading a Second Major, doing a double Minor or simply dabbling in whatever interests you, this space really is free-for-use. Most importantly though, students can now zone in and specialise in a particular facet of their primary major with no limits.
With the old FASS system, students could only read a maximum of 92 MCs worth of modules from their primary major, or 57.5% of their graduation requirements at best. This is because of the restriction placed on their UE space, where only 8 MCs could be from the primary major. However, CHS has removed that limit and given students the option to be a “Deep Specialist”.
If a CHS student so chooses, all 48 UE MCs can be used to read primary major modules, for a whopping total of 108 MCs (or 67.5% of graduation requirements), a huge increase from the past.
Where does old FASS come out on top?
CHS does seem to come up with a lot of new perks, so where does old FASS stand in comparison? Well, some of old FASS’s features will certainly be sorely missed.
The freedom of old FASS
As compared to CHS’s 8 pre-allocated modules, old FASS only had 6 pre-allocated modules. Three of them fall under the GE Pillars and the other 3 were WEC modules. It may not seem like much but having 2 less pre-allocated modules matters a great deal when it comes to having the freedom to choose your modules.
Although students still had to fulfill Faculty Core requirements, they were free to choose modules across the three FASS divisions. Students could get a taste of each division and explore their potential majors.
If you were fresh out of Junior College and unsure of what you wanted to major in, the Faculty Core requirements helped you find your footing. The freedom to choose your modules meant that you could still pick modules catered to your interests while having the opportunity to experiment.
Even though three of the GE Pillars were pre-allocated, students were free to choose their own GEH and GES modules. Catering to all kinds of niche interests, from pirates to Bollywood, students could choose from the diverse range of options under these 2 Pillars. This wide range of modules still exist under the new GE pillars but CHS students are no longer privy to the fun.
Ah but it’s not all doom and gloom! Since CHS students have more MCs to spare on their UEs, if they really wanted to, they could still take up more GE modules as an elective.
A deeper dive into your major
Under CNM’s major requirements in old FASS, students must fulfil at least 16 NM modules and are a tad more restricted when choosing electives. Seems a little contradictory to the previous point on freedom, doesn’t it? Well, it’s arguably a good thing when you think about how broad CNM is as a major.
With 4 broad areas of interest, further broken down into 10 different clusters (check out our Profs of CNM series to find out more about some of these clusters), the NM modules can be vastly different. You could be doing modules on web coding and news writing on the same day. With this broad spectrum of modules, it was wise to allocate more space for students to explore them.
Having to take on more NM modules meant that CNM students were forced to explore more of their major. Besides 4 compulsory NM modules, students were still free to choose any module they wanted, as long as they cleared the minimum requirements for each level accordingly. Although they were pushed to dive deeper into their major, they still had the freedom to choose. Sounds like a win-win to me!
Staying disciplined to your discipline
Interdisciplinary modules may be the new sexy thing on the block but let’s not forget the good old days when you only had to answer to one discipline. For the kids who dreaded numbers and the natural sciences, FASS was their refuge. Here, you were safe in your own major.
Now with all this talk about an interdisciplinary approach, FASS students will have to deal with the dreaded sciences. Imagine spending time and energy on modules about scientific inquiry instead of focusing on your own major. Oh, the horror!
Although it’s CHS’s key feature, the interdisciplinary modules caused quite a stir when they were first announced. It’s not hard to imagine why the FASS and FOS students were concerned about the mingling of two disciplines that couldn’t be more different. And it doesn’t stop there! The new College of Design and Engineering is NUS’s latest endeavour in its interdisciplinary approach.
It certainly looks like interdisciplinary learning is here to stay. In their defence, industries are looking for well-rounded individuals with a versatile set of skills and knowledge and interdisciplinary modules seem to be on the right track in promoting that. However, with how new CHS is, only time will tell how students will benefit from the Common Curriculum.
After comparing both systems, it’s clear that they each have their own pros and cons. CHS gives students the option to read more modules from their primary major as well as the ease of access to a plethora of Second Majors and Minors.
On the flipside though, old FASS made it more conducive for students to explore the wide variety of offered majors before deciding on one and students under the system didn’t have to worry as much about Common Curriculum modules.
Regardless, times have changed and we can only move forward from here, for old FASS is now just something that people can reminisce about. The kinks are undoubtedly still being ironed out for CHS so we’re sure that as the system develops, the student population will grow along with it.
Article was co-written by: Arnest and Suryani