Students Express Concern Over New Study Abroad Policy
story | Joshua Wong, Contributing Reporter
photo | Lucy Kuo and CIPE
Recent changes to Yale-NUS College study abroad policies have spurred a wave of discontent. Some students say the changes restrict their options and, in some cases, may force them to reconsider — or abandon — plans to study at an overseas institution.
On Jan. 19, the Center for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) announced several changes to regulations regarding Yale-NUS study abroad in an information session. CIPE implemented policy changes to the quota for places at non-partner institutions, credit transfer and funding for trimester-based institutions, and study abroad fees. Students expressed discontent at the restrictions imposed by the new policy on their study abroad opportunities.
The new policy limits the total number of students who can study at non-partner institutions (schools which do not have an exchange partnership with Yale-NUS) in Academic Year (AY) 2017/18 to 40. Prior to the introduction of this restriction, around half of the 222 students who studied abroad studied at non-partner institutions or programmes.
CIPE implements individual limits on the number of non-partner spots by geographical region. For instance, the number of students who can study abroad at a non-partner institution in Asia, Latin America, or Africa is limited to nine. In comparison, six members of the Class of 2017 studied abroad in Japan alone. The lack of geographical diversity is also reflected in partner institution offerings. Of the 103 places spread across 21 partner institutions for AY2017/18, only 18 are for institutions located outside of Europe and North America.
Students expressed concern over the limitations on places at non-partner programmes, and the lack of diversity in partner institutions. Heng Yeng Tan ’18, who studied abroad with the International Honours Programme (a non-partner programme), said in an online correspondence that “an over-saturation of students studying at partner institutions (that are large, campus-based, corporate, ‘elite’, and largely situated in the Anglophile world) is damning to the diversity in the perspectives and changes that study abroad is supposed to cultivate.”
Students who require semester abroad courses to count towards their major found themselves frustrated by the new restrictions. Risa Shindo ’19, a Mathematical, Computational and Statistical Science (MCS) major, said that “almost none of the partner institutions […] are appropriate for providing an intense program for computer science students.” As a result, she wanted to apply to a non-partner institution. However, her CIPE advisor told her that she needed to raise her Cumulative Average Point (CAP) in order to successfully compete for a place. “I was extremely enthused to apply for study abroad next semester,” she said, “[but now] I may or may not obtain the opportunity to apply for the institutions that I would love to study abroad at.”
Lindsay Allen, Associate Director of International Programmes at CIPE, said in an email interview that study abroad is transitioning to an exchange-based model in order to promote long-term sustainability. Places at non-partner programmes will gradually be reduced in the future as CIPE builds more partnerships with various institutions, including those in Asia, Africa, and South America. “We are confident that most of our students will be able to find multiple [partner] institutions on the list that are a good fit for their interests,” Ms. Allen said. “We believe that the exchange model is the best option for Yale-NUS, but for now we do plan to keep some non-partner spots for students whose unique interests and needs cannot be met by current partners,” she added.
While Melody Madhavan ’17, who also studied abroad at a non-partner institution, expressed understanding of the motivation behind the policy change, she said that the change should only be implemented after Yale-NUS expands its list of partner institutions. The current system, Madhavan said, makes it “very hard for people who want to achieve specific things that cannot be met by the partner institutions already available.”
Under the second change in the Yale-NUS study abroad policy, CIPE will cover only one trimester’s worth (approximately eight weeks) of tuition for trimester-based institutions such as Oxford or Cambridge, but students will pay Yale-NUS tuition for a full semester (14 weeks). Students who study abroad for one trimester will be allowed to transfer a maximum of 14MCs to Yale-NUS.
Students who wish to study abroad for longer will have to fund subsequent trimesters themselves. They can transfer a maximum of 20MCs for two trimesters, but will have to pay one semester’s worth of Yale-NUS tuition fees and one trimester’s worth of overseas tuition fees. Previously, students could study abroad for two trimesters while paying one semester’s worth of Yale-NUS fees.
The large increase in financial cost for studying abroad at trimester-based institutions has deterred some students from doing so. Charis Lim ’19 said that she felt she had been shortchanged. “A part of why I chose YNC was the ample overseas opportunities,” she said, “[but studying at a trimester-based institution] is not an option if I need to pay more than what I’m paying now. [It’s] just a bit of a financial stretch.”
Lastly, under the new policy, students are responsible for covering the costs of their room and board, airfare, and other personal expenses when going abroad. They will pay Yale-NUS tuition fees, but not residential fees. This change was implemented in AY2016/17. Previously, students had to pay Yale-NUS tuition and residential fees, as well as a study abroad fee of SGD3,000 for a semester (or 10,000 for a year), but had their overseas tuition, accommodation, and food expenses covered by CIPE. Students who require financial assistance to pay for room, board, and other expenses under the new policy can apply for need-based funding.
While acknowledging student concerns about the new policy, Ms. Allen said that students should “look at study abroad not just as a way to fulfill courses in their major, but also as an opportunity to build regional expertise, explore niche areas of interest, and gain a meaningful intercultural experience.”