Singapore's fourth university is giving its undergraduates more flexibility to "design" their own curriculums. 

Professors at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) said yesterday that the unusual move to let their students choose 13 of the 32 courses forming their bachelor degrees will help them in the real world. 

The first batch of 340 second-year students started to make their choices last month, basing their decisions on their interests and subjects they believed could help them in their fields.

For instance, an architecture student can take an engineering or product design course. 

Second-year student Javier Su, 22, who is majoring in information systems technology and design, decided to take a sociology elective this term. 

"It helps me understand how people work," he said. "It reminds me that as engineers we should go beyond functionality to design for people."

After completing common courses in sciences and humanities, the students began studying one of four "pillars" last month. 

These are: architecture and sustainable design, engineering product development, engineering systems and design, and information systems technology and design. 

Students take five core courses within their pillar, after which they can go into more focused areas. Those studying engineering systems and design, for example, can pick specialisations such as telecommunications and financial services

Students can still take courses from other pillars, allowing them to learn across disciplines. 

In addition, they are required to take seven humanities, arts and social sciences electives - four of which they also get to choose for themselves. 

"In every stage, there are multidisciplinary components," said associate provost of education Pey Kin Leong. "This is quite different compared to other universities. Here the pillars work very closely with each other." 

SUTD, which partners the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US and China's Zhejiang University, also said yesterday that 47 students from 14 countries are taking its new PhD programme. Thirty of them started last month and the rest will begin in January next year. 

The PhD students - who will graduate from one of the four pillars - were chosen from 500 applications worldwide. 

The university, which was established in 2009 and has more than 600 students, will move from its interim Dover Drive campus to Changi in early 2015.