S'pore schools gear for future IT workforce

With increased industry demand for cross-discipline talent, universities prep students for "real world" via interdisciplinary education, with lessons going beyond classroom.

Universities in Singapore are responding to the IT industry's increasing demand for professionals trained in more than one discipline, with greater emphasis on interdisciplinary education and out-of-classroom learning.

The Nanyang Technological University, for instance, provides students "deep training in one field of study and exposure to other disciplines through minors, internship opportunities and other cross-campus programs". Er Meng Hwa, NTU's senior associate provost, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview the institution also offers formally-structured interdisciplinary programs, including a double degree in business and computing.

"Today's businesses and organizations see an increasing need for interdisciplinary-trained professionals who can solve more complex problems, apply techniques from one field to another, communicate with others across disciplines, take risks and be creative," noted Er, who is also a professor at, and former dean of, NTU's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

NTU's latest double degree program--"Business & Engineering (Computer Science)"--was created "due to strong demand from industry" for graduates with strong technical and business skills, he added.

"The pervasiveness of IT in business and the enabling role of IT in the strategies of many organizations require knowledgeable managers who are able to use IT to transform the organization," he said. "For example, as companies extend their reach regionally, IT is critical for managing overseas operations, as well as for tightly coordinating the distributed supply chain for greater responsiveness and lower costs."

Over at the Singapore Management University (SMU), a spokesperson said in an e-mail that undergraduates at its School of Information Systems take 50 percent of their courses outside of their major. Such a scheme equips them with "a very solid grounding in management, leadership and communication skills". Nearly the whole cohort, she noted, pursue a second major to add to their cross-disciplinary training.

"The School of Information Systems' program goes beyond IT. It is about designing, building, deploying and managing software applications that address business challenges and problems," the SMU spokesperson said. "Students actually learn a lot about how [a] business [operates]. The curriculum is designed and delivered in close collaboration with IT and business leaders from a wide range of industries."

A spokesperson from the National University of Singapore's School of Computing added in an e-mail, focusing on an interdisciplinary path leads to "additional dimensions" for the students, which will be useful in analyzing and solving complex problems.

Learning beyond the classroom
As part of the emphasis on a cross-disciplinary undergraduate journey, the three universities interviewed said they provide student exchange programs, industrial attachments and internship opportunities.

At SMU, further learning is conducted outside of the classroom, as students have to carry out assignments and projects by partnering operational companies. "When [the students] do their Information Systems Application project…either in their third or fourth year, they work with a real client and develop a real solution for that client's organization," the spokesperson said.

NTU's Er added on top of industrial attachments, students are involved in networking activities to interact with industry professionals and understand more about current trends.

Future prospects for student
Having a multi-disciplinary education may pave the way for graduates to secure better jobs.

NTU graduates, according to Er, have secured a "wide variety of jobs" ranging from technology specialists and consultants, to project managers and business development managers.

SMU's spokesperson also noted that the mix of IT and business in tertiary education offers students the ability to choose between multiple career paths.

According to NUS spokesperson, some entrepreneurial graduates have established technology-based businesses of their own while others are employed in sectors ranging from biomedical research to financial services sector. "Others have ventured into other industries such as info communications or Internet security fields, and even multimedia," she added.

In a report released by Hudson in October, hiring expectations are also rising rapidly in the IT and telecommunications sector this quarter.

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