Education Minister goes on the defensive . . .
The cancellation of a controversial course at the joint Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College continued to make headlines as Singapore’s Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung fielded questions on Monday. The course was titled Dissent and Resistance in Singapore, and its cancellation raised concerns about academic freedom at the liberal arts college. Yale-NUS stated that the course lacked academic rigour and, given its focus, would put students at risk of arrest. In parliament on Monday, Ong went on record stating, “academic freedom cannot be carte blanche for anyone to misuse an academic institution for political advocacy.”
Censorship chill . . .
The controversy has raised questions about whether academic freedom and a liberal education can thrive in Singapore. Yale President Peter Salovey stated that Yale-NUS is “a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia.” But academics noted in an open letter in 2012, when the college opened, that in an environment where free speech is constrained, as it is in Singapore, self-censorship is a major concern. In an official statement, Yale-NUS denied that there was government interference in its decision and that it had academic and legal reasons for cancelling the course. The instructor of the cancelled course, Alfian Sa’at, is a local playwright who has accused the college of making him a scapegoat, disputing the claim that he was unresponsive to requests for course revisions.
Reputational repercussions . . .
As a country rooted in both Asian culture and Western influences, Singapore has positioned itself as a bridge between East and West. It is a global financial hub, but this new controversy raises questions about the strength of the bridge to Western higher education systems. While the issue of academic freedom has been raised in Singapore before, Minister Ong’s statements this week underscore the limits of academic speech in the city-state, as well as the government’s determination to ensure that its universities keep a lid on political discussion and debate.
- Straits Times: Why Yale-NUS course on dissent was scrapped: Ong Ye Kung
- Inside Higher Ed: Cancelled course renews academic freedom concerns
- South China Morning Post: Fears over Singapore Yale-NUS College’s course on dissent ‘not unfounded’: minister