The expansion of residential college living to other residences on campus, to “spark new ideas and collaborations, and enhance experiential learning”. The inclusion of multi-disciplinary modules, the invitation of guest speakers, and the introduction of new co-curricular activities in these colleges. The refurbishment of other facilities within the National University of Singapore (NUS), to enhance the overall learning experience.
Sounds great, right?
Yet, the effectiveness of these grand endeavours can only be evaluated with an understanding of the costs involved. NUS plans to transform the Ridge View Residences into the Ridge View Residential College, but did not elaborate on the hostel fees that residents should expect to pay. Despite the purported availability of bursaries and financial aid programmes for undergraduates, there are perennial concerns over expenses and affordability.
Across the board, for single rooms, students in the residential colleges (situated – for the moment – in the new University Town) can expect to pay about $100 to $600 more per semester than their counterparts in the halls or student residences. In addition, meal plans are compulsory. Whereas students staying in the halls pay $400 per semester for six breakfasts and dinners, those in the residential colleges pay more than twice that amount. For instance, it would cost $2,844 (single room, no air-conditioning) to stay in the Cinnamon or Tembusu residential college, and $2,200 to stay in the halls on campus.
One could argue that this premium is well-justified, given the additional academic and out-of-classroom experiences, as well as the relatively new environments.
But infrastructural advantages will erode over time. What are the unique selling propositions of these residential colleges? At the present moment, the University Scholars Programme at Cinnamon College is a “multidisciplinary, partially residential, academic programme”; Tembusu College provides “an exciting alternative for undergraduate campus living” through seminars and extracurricular activities; and the College of Alice and Peter Tan (which had a brief controversy over its name, here and here) “weaves the themes of active citizenship and community engagement through its curriculum and other aspects of the student experience”.
In other words – in more precise terms – how different are these residential colleges, and how different will the new Ridge View Residential College be? Just the same, tired formula of “small-group multidisciplinary modules”, “regular external speaker series”, and “a wide array of co-curricular activities”? Or is differentiation perceived to be a non-issue by the school?
As the administration mulls the extension of these residential colleges throughout the university, it should consider the implications too. In our eagerness to push these ideals – of enabling campus spaces for residential and experiential teaching-learning – how would the increasing ubiquity of residential colleges impact the status of the history-rich halls? Halls have traditionally been vibrant in sports, arts and cultural activities, and community service, so will the new residential colleges be complementary to the status quo?
Anecdotal sentiments that the school has been focusing disproportionately on these new-fangled arrangements should not go unaddressed. As with most initiatives, the Devil is the details. Until more information has been communicated, a healthy dose of scepticism is probably the most constructive option – for the time being.