A Step Within Borders: The Singapore Universities Student Exchange Programme (SUSEP)

By Audrey Chew

Online lectures. Suspended field trips. Downsized events. To make matters worse, overseas exchange programmes to certain countries such as Australia and New Zealand remain cancelled, considering how COVID-19 cases continue to emerge. But rather than lose out on a major part of university life, why not try for local exchange instead?  Singapore Universities Student Exchange Programme – or SUSEP – allows you to study courses at NUS, SMU and SUSS for a semester. 

Planning for a local exchange can be difficult, and you might not know what to expect. After all, you’re transitioning to a new environment (perhaps on your own). To learn more about SUSEP, we spoke to three NTU undergraduates who went to study courses at NUS and SMU. They shared with us why they applied for SUSEP and the culture of their host universities.  

 “I wanted to experience a different environment,” said Rachel Ho, a third-year Accountancy and Business undergraduate. Rachel completed her exchange at SMU where she enjoyed the “city aesthetic.” SMU’s prime location also offered a wide variety of food options and great access to public transport. Besides SMU’s convenient location, Rachel could also easily find a study spot on campus since there are designated study spaces available both indoors and outdoors. 

Rachel decided that it was time for new encounters. Image credit: Rachel Ho 

Rachel added: “There were many places available to study Li Ka Shing Library, Law Library, Connexion, Group Study Rooms which can be booked and even those standalone tables spread across the different faculty buildings and the underground pathway.”  

 At the start, Rachel found it challenging to befriend SMU students as the smaller lecture theatres had front-facing seats that made group conversations difficult. This infrastructure hindered Rachel from socialising with other students. 

Adjusting to different experiences may be hardImage credit: Rachel Ho 

Though she struggled initially, Rachel said: “Once some of them knew we were exchange students, they would strike up conversations with us about [NTU and its culture],”.  

Syafiqah Rahsid, a third-year Communication Studies student also shared that she found the friends she made in NUS to be forthcoming and helpful. However, like Rachel, she was hesitant to introduce herself to her peers at first.  

Does S/U sem mean easy sem? The stigma against exchange students remains. Image credit: Syafiqah Rashid 

“I was afraid it would affect their impression of me that I was there to ‘play’.”  

Many perceive exchange students to be less motivated to excel. After all, modules taken at the host universities are graded on a pass/fail basis and not be counted towards your cGPA. Because of this, some believe that exchange students will perform below average. 

This preconceived notion makes students like Syafiqah worry about revealing that she is from NTU. Compared to their peers who will get letter grades on their degree audits, people assume that exchange students have no qualms about doing the bare minimum to pass. 

However, Verlin Wee, a third-year Public Policy and Global Affairs student disagrees that exchange students have it easy. She emphasised that modules [at host universities] are made to be proper credit-bearing modules.   

Based on her experience, one of her final assignments was a 4000-word research proposal –equivalent to a mini–Final Year Project! Syafiqah had a similar experience too. 

Syafiqah said: “Everything felt theoretical for me and grasping the concepts was really difficult.”  

NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences adopts a different approach from NTU – theoretical concepts are emphasised. For Syafiqah who prefers application-based learning, this curriculum threw her off. Her module had a heavy workload consisting of weekly short essay submissions and long tutorials. On top of that, Syafiqah had to commute back-and-forth between campuses which made her partial exchange semester challenging. The workload for exchange students is certainly not to be underestimated.  

As for Rachel, she observed that SMU’s learning environment differs significantly from NTU. At SMU, professors revise online teaching materials during tutorial hours which helped to reinforce concepts and make learning more manageable. 

In Verlin’s case, she applied to go for exchange at NUS because she wanted to take modules taught by reputable professors there. However, due to pandemic restrictions, Verlin did not get to visit the campus for lessons and had an online semester instead. She felt that this compromised her experience.  

But through online classes, Verlin found NUS students to be very vocal. They were actively speaking up during their online tutorials despite not meeting their classmates face-to-face.  Verlin admired their resilience to learn regardless of the disruptions.   

For students interested in applying for local exchange, Syafiqah shared the obstacles she faced during the multi-application process. Applying for exchange of any sort, both local and overseas, requires students to seek approval from NTU and acceptance from the host university.  

However, students need to take note of how their host university allocates modules. Take NUS for example. Exchange students who are registered for a slot in a specific module are not guaranteed a spot as lecture and tutorial slots are to be applied separately. This means that exchange students need to mark down their application dates and be careful not to miss their deadlines. For Syafiqah, she even ended up subscribing to the same module in both universities as a precaution. She advises everyone to check module application lists for both universities if they are going on partial exchange as she did.  

Besides partial exchange where students can take a hybrid of modules from both universities, full exchange is also an option, which provides a more immersive experience. 

For the next semester, NUS has set aside 200 spots for NTU students. However, there is a limit of 20 places for those enrolled in Accountancy, Business and Computer Engineering programmes. As for SMU, 20 places are available while the Singapore University of Social Sciences has 6 slots up for grabs. 

While deciding on whether to apply, consider your commute between campuses, competitiveness of local undergraduates and different teaching styles. These factors have a significant impact on your exchange experience. 

On a final note, students who wish to apply for SUSEP should also have a clear plan of the modules they want to course match at their host university. With that, we wish all the best to everyone interested in applying for SUSEP! 

Application for SUSEP AY2021-22 Semester 2 closes on 20 September. Read more about the programme here.