Sunday, September 26, 2021

Cost Not Main Motivation for Closure, Part of NUS Roadmap to Make Interdisciplinary Education More Accessible: Education Minister

Story | Evan See (he/him), Guest Reporter 

Photo | Ministry of Communications and Information 

Financial cost was not a “main motivation” behind the decision to “merge” Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP), Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament on Monday (Sept. 13).

Rather, the decision came as part of a strategic direction that the National University of Singapore (NUS) has undertaken in efforts to develop greater intellectual versatility in students through interdisciplinary learning. 

Echoing NUS President Tan Eng Chye’s words in an opinion piece published in The Straits Times on Saturday (Sept. 11), Mr. Chan described the New College as a “third important step” within NUS’s organizational transformation. This is in reference to the establishment of two other faculties, the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) in December 2020 and the planned College of Design and Engineering.

Value of Liberal Arts

The Minister told Parliament that when setting up Yale-NUS, the government knew that the cost of both tuition and government funding would be “more than double” that of a humanities or science student at NUS.

“But we accepted this because we saw value in having a liberal arts college in our tertiary education system,” he said. He later mentioned that Yale-NUS had since become seen as a “paragon of academic freedom in Singapore.”

Chan also emphasized that NUS has “affirmed the value of a liberal arts education approach” and will subsequently seek to combine aspects of both Yale-NUS and USP into the New College as part of the university’s new strategic roadmap. These would include residential living, small group teaching, a common curriculum, a global orientation, and a diversity of international students.

Even though the New College’s intake of 500 students would not be much larger than the current combined intakes of Yale-NUS and USP, Chan argued that elements of its educational experience would “percolate to the rest of the NUS ecosystem.”

“This is how we will go forward in a more complex, uncertain, and even fragmenting world. Our universities must be able to enable our students to be more global in orientation and exposure, able to connect the East and West, North and South,” Chan said.

Cost

Still, the Minister said that the financial cost of Yale-NUS was an “important consideration” towards the decision to merge the two colleges. 

“[Yale-NUS] has done its utmost in raising funds,” Chan said, “but through no fault of its own has not reached its target.” The College had set a target to raise $300 million to reach an endowment of $1 billion, which would have reduced the need for government subsidies. So far, less than $80 million had been raised, according to Prof. Tan.

Chan said that the merger would allow NUS to combine the best elements of both Yale-NUS and USP, while gaining economies of scale that would make the New College more affordable to more students.

Accessibility

Chan repeatedly stated that the New College would be more accessible and inclusive for students compared to Yale-NUS.

He said that NUS expected the reduced fees, wider range of disciplines, and shared facilities of the New College to increase the accessibility of its education compared to Yale-NUS.

When asked by Mr. Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer SMC) how the integration between Yale-NUS and NUS would change after the “merger,” Chan said that this would become clearer “in due course” as the planning committee formulates its vision. 

He also said that the merger would mean that the New College would no longer have a separate governing board like Yale-NUS currently has. 

Stakeholder concerns

Chan also answered several questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) relating to the place of current Yale-NUS students and staff in the merger. One of the major concerns that has been expressed by students is the lack of consultation with Yale-NUS staff and students over the decision. Addressing this, Chan said that this was because the discussion only involved the senior leadership of the two universities (Yale and NUS) over “sensitive issues of strategy and finance.”

He added: “While the partnership will only end in 2025, both parties felt that the responsible thing to do was announce it early, rather than to hold back.”

For current students, Chan mentioned that the New College would “open new possibilities for students of [Yale-NUS], USP, and the New College to interact and collectively participate in active and inclusive student life.” 

“I understand the sadness and sense of loss and uncertainty students may feel, especially for those who have played a part in building up YNC over the past decade,” Chan said. 

He added that no faculty and staff would be made redundant as a result of the “merger.”

Additionally, Ms. He Ting Ru (WP-Sengkang) asked Chan what other alternatives to the “merger” were considered, and why they were not taken. He answered that there were various other options considered, but NUS had decided that the “merger” was the best way to achieve the university’s “guiding considerations” of interdisciplinary learning and inclusivity. He did not elaborate on what the other options would look like.

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