It has been a long time coming, but the National University of Singapore’s Communications and New Media programme will officially become a department on July 1.
Acting programme head Lim Sun Sun said the strength of the CNM programme in recent years was a major factor in the NUS senate’s decision to upgrade it to a department.
“Our student numbers, curriculum and research has grown from strength to strength over the years and quite clearly our sustainability speaks for itself,” Lim said. “The decision by the senate to upgrade us to a department was unanimous.”
CNM was first established in 2002 as the Information and Communication Technology Programme and renamed in 2005. Lim said it was labelled by the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as a programme when it was first established, because of the uncertainty surrounding the programmes’ long-term sustainability and capability to mature into a department.
Programme head Milagros Rivera said she never doubted that CNM would eventually mature into a department. “For me, it was always an issue of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’” she said.
“It felt good that it had finally happened,” Rivera said. “My first thought was, ‘About time!’”
Lim said CNM has always been functioning as a department, though its status as a programme certainly had its drawbacks.
“For all intents and purposes we were running as a department,” Lim said. “However, being a programme has distinct disadvantages. From informal quarters, we knew that students sometimes perceived programmes to be less than departments, when in fact there was no difference.”
Lim said potential employers of CNM graduates also had misconceptions about the programme.
“Our graduates would go out into the workforce, and their employers would say things like, ‘Oh we had no idea that you had such comprehensive training, because we thought that you were from a programme,’” she said.
Rivera agreed with Lim that there were misconceptions about CNM. “In the minds of some of our stakeholders, the label of ‘programme’ instead of ‘department’ made us less than other academic units,” Rivera said.
Adrian Heng, an account director at Hill & Knowlton South East Asia and member of the CNM Industry Advisory Council, said despite being a programme, CNM possessed distinct qualities, such as the annual Random Blends exhibition, that set it apart from communications programmes offered by other tertiary institutions.
“The Random Blends initiative definitely differentiates the CNM department,” Heng said. “Giving students the opportunity to exhibit their work is not only an incentive for them to produce their best work, but also an occasion to showcase their work to people who might be able to provide them opportunities in the future.”
Heng also said the advisory council was a unique and integral part of the CNM programme. “The foresight to set up an IAC to advise and engage with the faculty and student body is very commendable,” Heng said. “This is something that brings something more to the table that not all communications programs at other universities have.”
CNM lecturer Cho Hichang, a member of the teaching staff since the establishment of the Information and Communication Technology Programme, said he is proud of CNM’s newly acquired status.
“I am very glad that CNM has become a full-fledged and self-sustaining department,” Cho said. “It has been a collective effort, and I am glad to see myself in this team.”
Lim said she believes the greatest impact of the upgrade to department will be on CNM’s reputation, as relevant stakeholders will have a clearer idea of its viability as an academic unit.
“(Some employers) assumed that because we were called a programme that our training was less robust, which was definitely not the case,” Lim said. “We wanted to be upgraded to a department so that we could address this issue, as it was important for our students that they be viewed on the same level as other NUS graduates.”
Cho agreed with Lim, that CNM graduates would benefit from CNM’s new status as a department. “Students will benefit from getting better recognitions from industry players, which will be helpful for them to find a good position in the industry,” Cho said.
Lim also said the department’s new status would strengthen its ability to negotiate for more long-term curriculum changes that previously may not have been as well supported by the university, due to any lingering doubts about the programme’s sustainability.
“We have been wanting to push for mandatory internships for all CNM students,” Lim said. “I think that now that we are a full-fledged department, our ability to campaign for such changes may be enhanced.”
Third-year CNM undergraduate Jacinth Chen said she expects more positive changes in the near future because of the new status. “I believe that the CNM department will be able to attract even more quality teaching staff and provide students with a wider module variety,” Chen said.
Lim agreed with Chen that the department will be able to attract more teaching talent. “When potential hires see that we are a full-fledged department, they might be more inclined to join us than they previously would have been,” Lim said.
Lim also had a message for CNM students in relation to the department’s new title. “They can consider this as a coming of age for the programme,” Lim said. “Being upgraded to a department is a reflection of the university’s belief in the department’s long-term sustainability.”