Why are NTU students so outraged at their university?

By ZeroPauper

The NTU administration has had a reputation amongst students for neglecting undergraduate welfare and experience, even alumni who have graduated in the past can attest to it. The only semblance of welfare we receive is the occasional '10 tips and tricks to deal with covid stress' emails. Whenever students bring up an issue, the response would be to outright ignore it, or if you are lucky enough to receive a tone-deaf corporate response with blanket statements without elaborations. I guess that for many students, the biggest gripe we have about the administration is their inability to provide timely, meaningful and actionable communication.

Glaring issues that have been a mainstay in NTU for decades are still in full play today, and I will elaborate on them below in no particular order.

Shuttle bus services

To address the 'it's a privilege not an entitlement' crowd, take a look at this corporate magazine published by NTU, aimed at attracting potential undergraduates. It clearly advertises 'Internal shuttle bus services' as one of the various student services. Shuttle bus services are an entitlement to undergraduates, and the cost of running such services are included in our fees.

Alumni who have graduated over a decade ago can attest to the fact that our campus shuttle buses are inefficient, irregular and underregulated. The number of campus buses are in short supply with irregular bus arrival intervals. We can wait for as short as 5 minutes, or up to 30 minutes with no inbetween. Students over the years have been sending feedback to the school about such irregularities but the same issues are still here after decades. Sure, it's not something that can be solved easily, but I'm pretty sure that it doesn't take decades 9and decades more) to fix them. For the 'you complain, but what solutions do you have?' crowd, let it be clear that the onus is on NTU to solve such problems as it is a basic service advertised to attract students, not us undergraduates.

Last year, NTU introduced a ridiculous directive that disallowed standing on campus buses to 'reduce crowding', but failed to increase the flow of buses to stem the overcrowding at bus stops. Students had to crowd at bus stops and miss 3-4 buses before they could get onto one. For the 'but you can still walk, don't be a XXX' crowd, yes we can still walk, but it does not solve the root problem that NTU should be working on.

In 2019, NTU cancelled heartland shuttle buses under the guise of 'low ridership'. Students who have used any of the heartland shuttle buses can attest to the sheer volume of students arriving early to snag a spot on one of these highly prized transports. Now, external shuttle buses were not advertised on their corporate magazine, but this move clearly shows how much the administration cares about their students.

STARS server/results release technical failures

For the non-NTU students, STARS refers to our semesterly affair of registering for courses. This course registration exercise is the backbone of our undergraduate degree and many things weigh heavily upon it. Students are allocated a time and date where they can register for their courses, and with a single click, your fate is more or less sealed for the semester. Whether or not you get the courses and index numbers you painstakingly planned for is dependent on how fast you click the button compared to your peers. The result of whether you are able to squeeze all your courses in within 2 or 3 days of the week and save on transport monies and time would be dependent on this one click. The result of whether you are able to enroll in a course of your interest, or whether you will be able to fulfil your major or minor requirements is also dependent on this one click. In other words, this course registration exercise is one of the most stressful periods of our semester.

But it's not that simple. The server that manages the STARS system is archaic, failing and is unable to manage the sheer load during the course registration exercises. NTU IT staff confirmed that the system consists of 'ageing hardware and obsolete technology stack' which is a laughingstock for a university that claims to be one of the top universities in the world (see e-mail snippet furnished below).

Students are left stranded, waiting for the webpage to load for as long as 30 minutes after their first click to see if their course registration was a success, adding on to the tremendous stress that they already go through. For the 'stop being a strawberry, stress is part and parcel of real life' crowd, it's NTU's basic responsibility to maintain the servers of the course registration exercise as it underpins the necessity of us fulfilling the prerequisites of our undergraduate degree.

Increasing food prices throughout campus/lack of halal food

Some students have gotten information from stallholders that the rental for their food stalls are so exorbitant that they have no choice but to pass on the cost to consumers, resulting in the ever increasing cost of food on campus. For the 'but food prices across Singapore has been increasing everywhere anyway' crowd, it is NTU's choice to adopt a for profit business practice for F&B establishments on campus, but it also shows how much they care about students.

Another salient issue: the lack of halal options throughout the campus. Many muslim students in fact had to rely on an instagram page to discover suitable food options (those interested can read about this screw-up in greater detail here).

Lack of quality education

Feedback forms are sent out every semester to gather information about how well a professor teaches, but whether these feedbacks are taken into consideration, or whether the professors have enough time, or passion to put those feedback into action remains a mystery over the years. For the 'but it's normal for all research universities in the world' crowd, it being normal shouldn't be an excuse for low quality education and false advertising. NTU promises quality education with its global standings, but that doesn't seem to be the case. For the 'don't expect to be spoonfed' crowd, there's a difference between demanding spoon-feeding (giving all the required information for exams), and questioning the quality of teaching (how information in slides are ordered, how they are explained). We do not require professors to spoon-feed us all the content for exams. What we do require are professors who can explain concepts(which are already present in their current lecture slides), without confusing everyone.

Campus infrastructure

It's no secret that NTU has been doubling down on very extensive infrastructure upgrades in the past years, including Asia's largest wooden building, the Yunnan Garden renovation and Singapore's first barrier-free carpark. It's clear that these extensive upgrades cost a fair bit of money, but does it really improve the undergraduate experience?

"The rejuvenated Yunnan Garden, a green lung in our urban city, is now a nine-hectare precinct for leisure, education and heritage, updated for today’s generation of students."

The newly renovated garden is a sinkhole of funds that virtually no student utilizes for leisure, education or heritage.

"This (wooden building) was announced by Professor Subra Suresh, President of NTU, as part of the university's five-year plan to advance as a leading global university through a number of what Prof Suresh called "moonshot" projects."

From this, it makes it much clearer that the purpose of these massive upgrades are to boost the international reputation of NTU. Actually, it's quite obvious from the titles of these projects - 'Asia's largest' and 'Singapore's first'. Sure, these projects might be useful in attracting talented researchers from all over the world, but how much of that benefit trickles down to us students is yet to be known.

For that much cost, NTU can barely give two hoots about actual infrastructure upgrades that will benefit students. For example, a sheltered walkway from the campus rider bus stop at TCT lecture theater to the main building stem has been suggested by students for years, given the high footfall of students using campus rider services and how it gets very slippery on rainy days. But till date, no such improvements are being made. But the peculiarly, makeshift shelters that cover certain areas of the school can be put up during big events. For the 'but these massive projects are funded by a separate budget from the normal maintenance or infrastructure upgrades' crowd, a university as well funded as NTU can allocate monies to big projects as a façade to its international standings, but can't allocate a miniscule amount of monies to build a shelter that benefits students? This again shows that the administration doesn't care much about students.

Lacking crowd management early on in the pandemic

At the height of the pandemic, NTU was bustling per normal with hordes of students who had no choice but to be present on campus, due to NTU's then lacking COVID-19 policies. Many students living with immunocompromised family members were worried about having to mingle with large crowds everyday. The NTU administration chose to ignore, delay and ultimately brush off concerns about their lacking measures by giving ambiguous PR email replies. Even a sit-down meeting with the Chief Health, Safety and Emergency Officer of NTU yielded no results as he ultimately had no answers to my questions, no opinions about my suggestions and absolutely no solutions to speak of.

Hall allocation fiasco

Apart from the glaring issues of hall placement guarantees for Y1&2 students not being met and international students recently being forced out of their halls with 2 weeks to find alternative accommodation, I think most students are frustrated with the lack of communication and transparency from the administration. A user on reddit further alleges that the delay of hall results was not communicated to students through email, but only came in the form of an obscure notice mounted on the hall application portal. This delay meant that students had to undergo STARS course registration before they can confirm if they have a hostel room, causing issues such as fatigue from travelling >3 hours a day to attend classes in the morning instead of the 10 minute journey from hall. For the 'stop being a strawberry and travel to school like normal people and stop being entitled' crowd, Y1&2 students are indeed entitled to a hall stay in view of their aggressive hall guarantee publicity. It is the onus of NTU to ensure that the number of hall placements are sufficient to house all of the Y1&2s after taking into account the dormitories slated to serve as quarantine facilities. Although there is no rule stating that international students enjoy guaranteed hall stay, the least NTU could do was to give them ample notice so they could secure alternative living arrangements, instead of smacking them with a 2 weeks' eviction notice out of the blue. It was a dick move through and through.

In less than 24 hours, the NTU administration managed to do a U-turn on its policies and provided all year 1 and 2 students with hall placements and allowed international students to retain their accommodation on campus "on an exceptional basis”. This suggests some glaring issues with the hall allocation processes and COVID-19 policies.

Lastly, for the 'what do you gain by sharing all these' crowd

In honesty I do not seek any personal gain through penning this exposé. I can only pray that current students of NTU will feel enpowered to speak up more often, and ultimately hope the news media picks up on such stinging revelations because as we all know, (opinion) NTU only takes action if it receives negative media coverage. In the process, hopefully prospective students as well as their parents are also made cognizant of ongoing developments and can thus better decide things. Peace out.


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