Singapore: NUS reviewing five-month segregation of campus into zones, as students seek end to ‘inconvenient’ policy

Some students at the National University of Singapore said that its zoning policy is inconvenient and should be removed given the low case numbers of Covid-19 in the country. — TODAY pic
Some students at the National University of Singapore said that its zoning policy is inconvenient and should be removed given the low case numbers of Covid-19 in the country. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Oct 29 — The National University of Singapore (NUS) said yesterday that it is reviewing a zoning policy introduced in June to reduce intermingling on campus due to Covid-19. Students have expressed unhappiness at the restriction of their movement, with a petition calling for its removal attracting over 600 signatures.

Most of the students interviewed by TODAY yesterday said that the policy, which segregates students and employees of the university according to delineated areas of the campus, was impractical and inconvenient. For example, it limited their food options.

Responding to queries from TODAY, an NUS spokesperson said that the university is reviewing its safe management measures, including the zoning strategy, given the low number of community cases in Singapore.

“We may modify these measures accordingly as the situation improves, and will keep our students and staff abreast of any changes in due course,” the spokesperson said.

The zoning policy divides the university into five zones. The Kent Ridge campus is divided into three zones while the Bukit Timah and Outram campuses make up the remaining two.

Staff members and students are not allowed to leave their respective zones while on campus. For example, a student from the Faculty of Science that is in Zone B is not allowed to attend lessons or eat at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences that is in Zone C.

Students and employees are also encouraged to install a mobile application that informs them of their respective zones and alerts them if they have ventured out of their zones.

The app includes a safety profile screen that they must show to attend physical classes as well as patronise eateries, board the internal shuttle services and use the campus facilities.

NUS students are encouraged to install an app that tells them when they are inside or leave their designated zone. — TODAY pic
NUS students are encouraged to install an app that tells them when they are inside or leave their designated zone. — TODAY pic

‘Limited food options’

Six of the seven students that TODAY interviewed described the policy as inconvenient.

Eunice Tan, 23, a third-year business administration student, said that the university’s internal shuttle services have been re-routed since the campus reopened. This is to avoid stops at certain zones.

As a result, some students are unable to directly reach “neutral” zones such as the University Health Centre.

Neutral zones are open to all, regardless of their designated zones. This means that some students have to walk a distance to reach these destinations, Tan said.

The inconveniences of the zoning policy also prompted Foo Ce Ying, a final-year business administration student, to launch a petition for its removal on the Change.org website on Oct 24.

Among the issues raised by the 25-year-old was that of limited food choices for students.

With the Business School’s canteen under renovation, students in Zone C where his faculty is located, can patronise only the canteen at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, which is in the same zone. While there are cafes located within the zone, these are pricier options for students, Foo said.

“The limited food options and the early closure of some canteen stalls force people to go out and eat, which takes up their time,” he added.

He also said that it was unfair to students that visitors were not subject to similar requirements and could move within the campus freely.

The NUS spokesperson said that members of the public cannot patronise the university’s canteens, board internal shuttle buses or enter NUS buildings freely.

Those without an employee card or student card will be asked to leave the premises if they are seen by campus security personnel.

The sole student who felt that it was not inconvenient was a third-year business student who wanted to be known only as Zhen. The 23-year-old said that she was not affected by the policy because all her classes were in the same zone.

Some undergraduates observed that the zoning policy was not practical or effective in reducing mingling among students.

A 21-year-old, third-year mathematics student from the Faculty of Science, who wanted to be known only as Ng, said that the policy “did not make sense” because students could still meet outside of campus.

Tan, the business student, said that some students developed an online platform to beat the system and enter non-designated zones.

With the number of Covid-19 cases reducing in Singapore, Sam Ng, a fourth-year computer science student, felt that now is a good time to lift the zoning policy.

When asked if she felt this could lead to crowding on campus, the 21-year-old said that with most lessons offered online, students were likely to remain home.

Likewise, Foo said that he had decided to push for a change in the policy five months after its implementation since the Covid-19 situation had improved in Singapore.

“While zoning was effective initially, I feel like things are going back to normal and students feel that zoning has outlived its usefulness.”

Foo added that the university has been quick to respond to his petition. He will be meeting with the university’s president, Professor Tan Eng Chye, and the university’s student union next week to discuss how to move forward with the policy.

In its statement to TODAY, the NUS spokesperson added that the NUS Students’ Union, the Junior Common Room Committees in the halls of residence as well as the College Students’ Committees in the residential colleges have been giving continuous feedback to the university on its safe management measures.

“Representatives from the university administration are engaging students on their concerns, and to seek their continued understanding and co-operation in our collective fight against Covid-19,” the spokesperson said. — TODAY

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