Joint liberal arts college closing . . .
An eight-year partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore (NUS) is ending, with first-year students of Singapore’s Yale-NUS College learning recently that their cohort will be the last admitted into the liberal arts program. The decision was abrupt and one-sided: NUS notified Yale in July, citing concerns about financial sustainability. Enrolled students learned about the decision on August 27 in a campus-wide virtual town hall. The announcement left students and academics frustrated and questioning the true motive, given that the program had a strong reputation, robust student demand, and options for boosting the school’s finances.
Motivation speculation . . .
Two alternative theories have surfaced as to why the university pulled the plug on what had been seen as a successful venture. One was described as possible “local resentment” that an “elitist bastion of Western liberalism” was receiving local funding (about 90% of its faculty and 40% of its students are foreign). A more widely held view, however, is that the government is increasingly uncomfortable with the school’s permissiveness – and even encouragement – of political activism. In 2019, the college cancelled a planned course on “dissent and resistance in Singapore” after the country’s education minister warned against universities “becoming venues for partisan political activities to sow dissent against the government.” Earlier this year, the college invited Singaporean opposition leader Pritam Singh of the Worker’s Party to deliver the keynote speech at the graduation ceremony.
Retaking control . . .
Yale-NUS College has been one of the most high-profile cases of a Western university setting up a partnership in a country not known for supporting academic freedom. While NUS and pro-ruling party Singaporean politicians have rebuffed suggestions that the closure was due to politics, Singaporean academics within and outside the country are expressing their doubts. That includes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s estranged nephew, Li Shengwu, an economics professor at Harvard, who tweeted that the government exerts “substantial control” over universities’ tenure promotion decisions and course content. Other Western universities with a similar presence in Asia will be watching as the dust settles and looking for ways to avoid pitfalls in their own ambitions for global expansion.
- Academia SG: Academic Freedom Survey 2021
- The Octant: A planned catastrophe: Yale-NUS to close in 2025
- South China Morning Post: Money woes or curbing dissent? Singapore’s academic community bemoans Yale-NUS college closure