Thursday, October 21, 2021

NUS President: University-Wide Restructuring to Include School of Computing; Yale Offered to Help Yale-NUS With Fundraising

Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor; Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief; Suman Padhi (she/her) and Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Contributing Reporters
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

This is part one of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part two, which addresses the transition from Yale-NUS to the New College, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates

At a town hall on Tuesday, NUS President Tan Eng Chye addressed the Yale-NUS student body directly, for the first time since his announcement that the school would be closing more than a month ago.

Other than Prof. Tan, the town hall was also helmed by Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS; and Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students of Yale-NUS.

According to the student moderator, the town hall saw almost 100 pre-submitted questions, the largest number for any town hall in Yale-NUS’s history. 

Speaking from the Performance Hall stage, Tan described his considerations behind the decision to close Yale-NUS, including considerations of financial sustainability and his vision of an NUS-wide restructuring that will include the School of Computing next year. He is still considering ways to incorporate the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music into this structure. 

Tan also described plans for the transition to the New College and fielded questions on accountability and transparency during a combative live Q&A session. These will be covered in parts two and three of The Octant’s series of reports on the town hall.

NUS-wide restructuring: common curriculum to ensure a broad intellectual foundation 

Tan reiterated that the “merger” of Yale-NUS and USP is part of the broader roadmap in his personal vision to make the curriculum structure of NUS “very similar to” that of Yale-NUS. 

According to Tan, students under this new structure will take about one-third of their total modules as common curriculum modules, one-third as electives, with the remaining portion under major requirements.  

The formations of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) and College of Design and Engineering are all part of the shift towards this curricular structure that aims to promote interdisciplinary learning. Tan added that the NUS School of Business was “already under this curriculum structure.”

The restructuring has previously impacted the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, School of Design and Environment, as well as Faculty of Engineering. Tan said that these four faculties are the biggest in NUS, which means two-thirds of students are involved. 

According to statistics released by the NUS Registrar’s Office, however, undergraduate students from these four faculties constitute 55% of the NUS undergraduate student population for the Academic Year 2020/2021.

Tan also outlined plans for further restructuring that would affect the rest of NUS. He said: “Next year, the School of Computing will come under this curriculum structure. We only have the Conservatory of Music that we’re still trying to find a way for them to come under this curriculum structure (sic).”

“We want most of our students to do a double major. They can actually choose a second major from a spread of second majors available across the entire NUS.”

“This is one way we are pushing, and the common curriculum ensures that our graduates have a very broad intellectual foundation.”

The New College fits in, he said, because it would allow students from other faculty to access the common curriculum. 

Tan also said that he hoped the new changes would allow for a more diverse version of the Yale-NUS common curriculum: “Currently, you have an interdisciplinary curriculum, spanning from humanities to social sciences to sciences. “

“We are hoping that we can inject elements of design, engineering, and other areas, or even business, into it, so it will be more diverse.”

Finances: Yale offered help, but not enough

In a recently-published statement, Yale-NUS’s alumni raised the point that liberal arts colleges need time to grow their endowments and these investments require time to bear fruit. The alumni statement said that the first few batches of the College’s alumni have barely hit the age of 30, and are not yet able to make generous donations. The statement also said that in the past few weeks, alumni have proven to be “actively dedicated to maintaining ties with Yale-NUS and ensuring the continued growth of its community.”  

In response to the statement, Tan said that it was impossible to raise funds based on the current pace of fundraising. As explained previously by himself and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, Yale-NUS aimed to raise $300 million for its endowment by 2030 which, with the help of government matching, would amount to an endowment of $1 billion. To date, however, only $87 million has been raised. 

Furthermore, Tan explained that the total cost per Singaporean student at Yale-NUS, which includes the government subsidy of $70,000 and the tuition fee of $20,000, is $90,000. In comparison, the fees for each student at CHS is $8,000 with a government subsidy of $22,000, with a total cost per student amounting to $30,000. 

“It’s three times the cost. Three times the cost is actually tremendously difficult to match, to sort of bridge,” Tan explained. “It’s not just the endowment that you have to bridge; it is the number of faculty you have to bridge and the number of admin staff that you need to trim.”

“It’s not so straightforward to raise money, not in Singapore,” he continued. “It is easy for Yale to raise a billion dollars a year, because they do have a very conducive culture in the States for fundraising.”

“In Singapore, fundraising is still very nascent. It takes time, and it takes a lot of cultivation. NUS has been working hard on this, but when you look at the scheme of things, it is actually very challenging to try to raise that. And the thing that begs an important and urgent response is: Who is going to fill in the gap?”

While Tan did “raise the [financial] issue to Yale,” who offered to help, the assistance was not sufficient to close the gap.

He said: “To be frank, at some stage, Yale actually volunteered that they could try to help us in fundraising, but the thing is that the gap is really too big for us to bridge. The key thing is that even if realize, you still have a big gap (sic).”

During the live Q&A session, a student highlighted that, given that Yale-NUS failed to meet the endowment target that was planned from the beginning, there seemed to be a “misprojection and miscalculation” of financial targets and estimates. 

When the student asked who should be held accountable for this misprojection, Tan replied: “I would say it’s a model that we embarked on. And it’s unfortunate that the model didn’t work.”

“If you want to say, ‘whose fault?’, you can say that perhaps it’s also partly NUS and partly Yale-NUS for being unable to raise the funds. And we tried. We managed to raise less than $90 million. And like I said, it’s not that NUS is not used to fundraising. NUS has to raise $150 million every year to make sure that our budget is sustainable. And I think we’ve been quite lucky that NUS managed to raise that.”

“But it’s just that it’s harder to impress donors on the concept of a liberal arts college.”

Tan’s comments followed Minister Chan’s statement in parliament that Yale-NUS failed to meet the endowment target “through no fault of its own.”

Tan explained that changing Yale-NUS, an autonomous liberal arts college with its own faculty, majors, and modules into an honors college will mean greater financial sustainability due to the reduced cost. The New College would only have to focus on some parts of student academic experience.

“The majors are planned in their respective faculties,” Tan said. “The New College is responsible for the common curriculum, which is about one-third of the module exposure for students. Certainly, I think the cost is manageable. “

Alternatives considered, but not feasible

Tan reiterated that many other alternatives were considered to support Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability. 

However, he said that when MOE’s “premium funding” to Yale-NUS ends in 2022, the deficit would be too large to close.

“You really need many iterations of increasing enrollment, cutting financial aid, and increasing class sizes to be able to bring [the deficit] down,” Tan said. “We’ve studied a lot of options, and there’s no viable option but merging or integrating [Yale-NUS] into the university framework,”  Tan said.

Tan added that the possibility of increasing the enrollment to 1500 or 2000 had been raised by Roberts. However, Tan said this was not possible because the existing campus could not accommodate the increased intake.  

Previously, Yale-NUS leadership also acknowledged that the fundraising had not been sufficient, which had led the College to retract its need-blind admission policy for international applicants this year.

In an email to The Octant on Sept. 20, Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, explained that the change in the college’s admission policy to need-aware for the international applicants in this year’s admission cycle was part of their efforts towards financial sustainability. There had also been increased fundraising and engagement efforts with parents to support the college, but these efforts alone “would not have sufficed.”

Prof. Tan Tai Yong added: “Other options such as further budget cuts, reducing the residential tenure for students and/or scaling Yale-NUS’ cohort size up to a larger and more sustainable intake of about 500 students per annum (similar to other US Liberal Arts College programmes) were also presented to the Yale-NUS Governing Board as options to make the College more financially sustainable.”

This is part one of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part two, which addresses the transition from Yale-NUS to the New College, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates

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