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“Destroying Crops Before They Are Ready to Harvest”: Yale-NUS Alumni Release Statement

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Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)

On Sept. 26, alumni from Yale-NUS College released a statement responding to NUS’s decision to close down Yale-NUS. In an email addressed to several media outlets, the alumni said that the statement was presented in solidarity with the #NoMoreTopDown petition by NUS and Yale-NUS students, as well as various statements released by students, parents, and faculty members of Yale-NUS.

The full alumni statement can be read here.

Signed by 522 alumni from the Classes of 2017 to 2021 at press time, including 190 of them who signed anonymously, the statement highlighted the unique value proposition of a Liberal Arts College (LAC) education offered at Yale-NUS and questioned the reasons behind the closures of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP).

The value of Yale-NUS: a “different and unique educational option”

In the statement, the alumni noted that the closure of Yale-NUS and USP puts an end to two “great and unique programs.” USP offers a program where students take interdisciplinary USP modules on top of classes in their specific faculty at NUS. The program suits students who want to primarily explore their major in depth, with an interdisciplinary foundation and residential living, the statement says. 

Meanwhile, Yale-NUS offers a core curriculum designed to feed directly into majors and minors taken within Yale-NUS, alongside a full four-year residential program, small class sizes, a dedicated set of faculty, and a singular focus on undergraduate education.

They highlighted that Yale-NUS is the only option for a LAC education in Singapore, and was created not to offer a “better” form of education, but a “different and unique educational option” for Singaporeans. 

The alumni noted that there is a “high and growing demand” for a LAC education in Singapore and Asia. According to the alumni, Yale-NUS graduates are contributing across many spheres in Singapore and across a wide variety of organizations, including in multinational corporations, the public service, banks, big tech, startups, research organizations, the arts, and civil society. 

The statement also pointed out that Yale-NUS graduates also had higher starting salaries compared to the national average, and a faster median salary growth rate compared to other universities, in the last four years.

“Yale-NUS’s development has surpassed reasonable expectations for any developed institution, much less one less than a decade old,” the statement read.

“Without a LAC in Singapore, access to a LAC education will be challenging, in particular for lower-income Singaporean students,” the statement continued. The statement pointed out that comparable institutions that offer a LAC education overseas may cost the Singaporean student four times as much as Yale-NUS.

“Additionally, those who do go overseas may not return, thereby exacerbating the brain drain in Singapore,” the statement said. “These are known considerations that MOE highlighted in its 2008 report.”

A premature decision: “Destroying crops before they are ready to harvest”

The alumni statement then questioned the decision to close down Yale-NUS College, given the unique value proposition of a LAC education that the college provides. 

The statement read: “If Yale-NUS is a ‘great success,’ as NUS President Tan Eng Chye wrote, it remains unclear why NUS senior management did not simply continue Yale-NUS, without the Yale name, and adjust the institution as necessary.”

The statement also questioned the financial explanation behind the closure of the college, arguing that most liberal arts colleges take “decades” to build strong alumni networks, which contribute to the endowment funding. Top liberal arts colleges in the United States took more than 200 years to build an endowment of more than US$1 billion, the statement said.

“For Yale-NUS to be shut down pre-emptively when most of its first batch of graduates have barely hit the age of 30 is equivalent to destroying crops before they are ready to harvest,” the statement said. “As the last few weeks have shown, our growing alumni network is actively dedicated to maintaining ties with Yale-NUS and ensuring the continued growth of the community.” 

“There has also been insufficient information about the projected annual savings from the proposed merger to justify the closure of Yale-NUS.”

The statement then said that the “high-handed” manner in which the decision was made was indicative of an “administrative environment that is hostile to collaboration, growth, and stability across Singapore’s higher education sector.”

The statement continued: “It signals that senior administrators of Singapore’s institutions for higher education are not and may not be willing to provide the stable and collaborative environment that is essential for students, alumni, staff, and faculty to pursue their studies and build their careers.”

Gratitude and Support

The alumni concluded their statement by reaffirming their support for the Yale-NUS community and taking stock of what would be lost with the school’s closure.

The alumni said they were “forever thankful” for the efforts to build up the college by Yale-NUS’s current and former faculty and staff. They also pledged to continue to support current students, and to continue to use their education “productively and passionately, both for [their] own flourishing and in the service of others.”

The statement said: “The loss of Yale-NUS represents the loss of yet another diverse community in Singapore; one where students of varied socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and educational backgrounds lived, studied, and learnt together. More than a decade’s worth of hard work by students, alumni, parents, educators, and staff, not to mention the significant public monies invested, will be lost.” 

“When this decision has been questioned by a multitude of stakeholders—students, parents, alumni, faculty, higher education professionals, independent commentators, employers—does that not reasonably indicate that perhaps more time should be taken to evaluate this decision?”

Xie Yihao, an alumnus from the Class of 2017, said: “It has been almost a month since the announcement and we still don’t have any clear answers, even honest attempts from the top NUS leadership to explain the rationale and decision making process.”

“They instead appear to play divide and conquer, and want to wear out our patience. It is disrespectful and disappointing to say the least.”

Yale-NUS Cancels Week 7 Program Amid New COVID Restrictions; Graduation Requirement Waived

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A shot at Yale-NUS near Oculus
Credit: Joshua Vargas

Story | Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Contributing Reporter
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

All the Week 7 projects this semester, slated to start tomorrow, have been canceled, Beth Uding, Associate Director for Experiential Learning for Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE), announced in an email to the Class of 2025 yesterday. The Week 7 graduation requirement will also be waived for all first-year students.

Uding said the “difficult decision” was made to comply with the heightened Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore announced by the Ministry of Health this Friday (Sept. 24). Taking effect from tomorrow (Sept. 27) until Oct. 24, group sizes for social gathering were cut from five to two. In addition, groups of up to two will be allowed to dine in at regular food and beverage establishments if both diners are fully vaccinated.

Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries (LABs) are faculty-led co-curricular projects designed by CIPE to allow faculty to share their scholarship with first-year students outside of the classroom and create an opportunity for students to explore the curriculum in broader, real-world contexts. Earlier Week 7 programs saw students going to places such as Bali, Switzerland, and India

Usually held in the first semester of the academic year, CIPE postponed the previous iteration of Week 7 to Semester 2 due to prevailing COVID-19 restrictions in the first semester. 

According to CIPE, the new restrictions made it unfeasible to continue with their original Week 7 plans. They had considered alternatives, but did not have enough time to rework the projects to transition to a classroom or virtual setting, given the timing of the announcement. 

Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students, told The Octant that Yale-NUS’s official vaccination rate is at 80%. The actual rate is likely to be higher, he said, because some fully vaccinated students who were vaccinated overseas have not uploaded their vaccination certificates into uNivUS.

In a separate email sent exactly a month ago (August 25) to international students from the Class of 2025 who were studying virtually, CIPE announced that students who were unable to enter Singapore to participate in Week 7 programs would also receive a waiver for the Week 7 graduation requirement. 

On August 30, in response to queries on whether Week 7 projects could be postponed instead of canceled, CIPE explained in another email to e-learners from the Class of 2025 that the uncertainty surrounding the New College meant that a postponement to the next academic year “[did] not make sense,” and that a waiver was the best solution at the time. Uding did not mention the possibility of postponing the program to the next semester. 

Several students on campus expressed their frustrations toward the cancellation.

Koh Hekang ‘25 was disappointed by the cancellation of Week 7 projects. “It’s bad timing and pure bad luck,” he lamented. “I really hope that we can still get to do our Week 7 in Semester 2. Hopefully by then, the international students who weren’t able to fly to Singapore will be able to join us, and we’d all be able to experience Week 7 together.” 

Daniel Thomas ’25 said while he understood that the College has to comply with the existing regulations, his “real disappointment comes with the government outside.”

Theo Young, a freshman from Canada, had been looking forward to learning more about Singaporean society through Week 7. He said: “I feel cheated out of the true Yale-NUS experience yet again. First with COVID restrictions, then the merger, and now the Week 7 cancellation. I am sad to say that my college experience has not been fully what I dreamed it to be yet.” 

“However,” he added, “I think that ‘yet’ is important. These challenges that we have been facing are only setbacks, not earthquakes. Making this year great is still very much possible, and I look forward to playing as big a part in doing that for others as much as I can.”

Yale-NUS Reports Two Covid Cases on Campus

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A picture of the heart of the Yale-NUS Campus, overlooking the Oculus and Elm College.

Story | Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)

Two Covid-19 cases have been confirmed on campus. Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students announced the first in an email to students on the morning of Sept. 26. The following day, Stanfield confirmed another case. The second case, he explained, was a suitemate of the first. These are the college’s second and third cases on campus respectively since the start of the pandemic, after a Covid case was discovered in late April

The first student, an Elm College resident, is symptomatic and stayed at the college during recess week, Dr. Stanfield explained in his email. It is expected that they will be transferred to a medical facility soon, though exactly when is unknown. The case’s close contacts were contacted, and likely received a government-mandated Quarantine Order, which lasts for 10 days after the latest interaction with the infected person.

Under an NUS-wide policy, Yale-NUS students and NUS students residing on campus who are vaccinated were previously expected to self-administer antigen rapid tests on a monthly basis. Unvaccinated students were required to administer the tests weekly. The email did not mention the student’s vaccination status. 

However, in an email from NUS sent to students on Sept. 30, it was announced that all vaccinated hostel residents will now have to self-test on a weekly basis, with tests to be taken every Sunday. For unvaccinated residents, this requirement will be twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays.

In recent communication with The Octant, Stanfield said that the college’s official vaccination rate was 80%. Despite this, he explained that some students were vaccinated abroad, and have yet to upload their vaccination certificates to uNivUS, NUS’s proprietary student management application. For this reason, Stanfield suspects that the actual rate is slightly higher. 

When last year’s case was uncovered in Cendana Tower A, the case’s close contacts were taken to NUS’s Prince George’s Park Residences to serve their government-sanctioned quarantine order. In addition, the entire tower where the student had been residing, Cendana Tower A, was quarantined for a 7-day period to ensure that there had been no linked infections. 

In an email to students, Stanfield explained that “The protocols for Covid-19 case management have evolved since our last suspected case several months ago. We do not anticipate needing to place the Elm tower on LOA as of now unless the situation evolves, and the authorities decide otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the locations visited by either of the contacts have been closed since the cases were discovered, awaiting deep cleaning before they can be used. These areas include Elm’s buttery and outdoor seating area, the fitness centre, and the multi-purpose hall. 

“In the meantime,” Stanfield wrote, “we urge all students to stay calm, monitor your health closely and be attentive to further updates from the College. Please practice social responsibility and see a doctor immediately if you are unwell to prevent further spread.”

Recently, there has been a significant rise in cases in Singapore, with the country reporting 1,443 cases on Sept. 25. Restrictions are also being tightened, with a return to an in-person dining cap of two vaccinated people effective from Sept. 27, as the government warns cases could more than double to 3,200 per day by next week.

The information in this article was last updated on 30th September.

Yale-NUS Faculty Members Release Open Letter Regarding College Closure

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A photo of Saga College, Yale-NUS against the backdrop of Kent Vale, NUS' faculty residences.

Story | Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

Last Saturday (Sept. 18), The Octant received an unofficial statement from some members of the Yale-NUS faculty condemning the college’s closure. The 20-page document expresses concern about the college’s closure and the proposed new college, incorporating a two-and-a-half-page list of “[o]utstanding questions” about the merger. The faculty responsible for its writing hope that the paper will serve as an open letter to the Ministry of Education, the NUS Board of Trustees, and Yale-NUS’s own governing board.  

The statement was authored through what faculty described as “an informal sharing process,” and is, as a result, only representative of a group of concerned faculty, rather than the college’s faculty in its entirety. Nevertheless, the document represents the first public statement by members of faculty since the announcement of the merger on August 27.  

The Value of Yale-NUS College

The piece places an emphasis on the value of Yale-NUS College, situating it as the only liberal arts college in the Singaporean educational landscape.

“Continuing Yale-NUS College,” the faculty write, “would preserve this successful, well-established model for interdisciplinary undergraduate education, enhance the Singaporean tertiary education system, and maintain the range of options for local students with diverse interests and academic trajectories.”

NUS President Tan Eng Chye has written the proposed “New College” will seek to “amplify, not diminish, the Yale-NUS story.” 

By outlining the four key characteristics of a liberal arts college (see table 1) the faculty compares the educational offerings of Yale-NUS, NUS’s College of Humanities and Sciences, the University Scholars Programme, and the New College’s proposed model.

In doing so, they argue that Yale-NUS’ offering is unique, meaning that “merging Yale-NUS into a two year Honours College program will eliminate a thriving and home-grown small liberal arts college from the Singaporean higher educational landscape.”

The faculty further cite higher median starting salaries for Yale-NUS graduates relative to their NUS peers as an indicator of the college’s success, while also commenting on the diverse range of fields alumni work in, like social impact, nonprofits, and NGOs, in addition to sectors like the public sector and consulting. 

Yale-NUS Bachelor of Arts graduates have a median starting salary of $3,890, as compared to $3,500 for NUS Bachelor of Social Sciences and Bachelor of Arts graduates. This difference is more pronounced in the case of Yale-NUS’s Bachelor of Science graduates, who average $5,350, as compared to NUS Bachelor of Computing graduates at $5,243 and Bachelor of Science graduates at $3,528.

The faculty write: “Yale-NUS graduates earn a high starting salary upon graduation and have a high rate of employment within six months, some at top international firms such as Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Oliver Wyman, and in local companies, and many have joined the Singapore public service…”

Likewise, they list a series of prestigious postgraduate education programs that Yale-NUS students have been admitted to in the college’s short history as a means of demonstrating the college’s educational prowess. 

Institutional Failures

The statement criticizes the lack of consultation in the decision-making process, before expressing confusion that “the leadership of Yale and NUS also offered conflicting explanations.” They reference NUS President Tan’s Straits Times opinion piece which centers on finances, contradicting Yale’s account that financing was not the primary reason for the closure. 

Furthermore, the statement directly addresses two objectives for higher education, outlined by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament, namely: 1) That students are “global in their perspective, much more able to apply interdisciplinary approach [sic] to problem solving,” and 2) That the “whole experience in our universities is much more inclusive, much more affordable…”

“Yale-NUS already provides an innovative, outstanding interdisciplinary undergraduate education custom-designed for Singapore with a global perspective by a diverse faculty,” the statement reads. 

“Its commitment to financial aid and thoughtful holistic admissions have created an exceptionally diverse student body where a global mindset is fostered through daily interactions in residential life, in its wide range of study abroad opportunities, high profile international visitors, and its ambitious, community-minded alumni all over the world.”

Impact on Students, Community, and Faculty

The statement concludes by outlining the impacts of the closure on three key stakeholders, namely students, community, and faculty. 

For the community at large, the statement argues that the decision has “imposed unprecedented emotional and mental burdens on all members of our community.”

Faculty address the impact on the integrity of the Yale-NUS experience on students, writing that “there will be an unprecedented amount of uncertainty about basic aspects of their education.” They also discuss possible professional implications, before arguing that “the years of hard work that our students put into building the College have been rendered meaningless” by the closure. 

According to the statement, faculty at the college will also be impacted. Despite NUS promising to honor all contracts, the statement emphasizes the different academic cultures, arguing that “faculty are being moved to an entirely different kind of institution after a decision that came without any stakeholder consultation.” 

In addition, faculty write about the uncertainty they face regarding tenure, which, for the 60% of professors at Yale-NUS who are not currently tenured, is a major concern. Tenure will be difficult to achieve for some considering that their departments do not even exist at NUS. For those who do wish to pursue tenure, despite assurances from NUS that the tenure process will remain the same to 2025, faculty worry that they might be evaluated with an eye on future redistribution to NUS departments.

Baffled, Cheated, and Frustrated, But Trying to Hope: Yale-NUS Deferred Matriculants Share Their Perspectives on “Merger” and New College

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Story | Toh Hong Jin (he/him), Guest Reporter
Photo | Toh Hong Jin (he/him) and JW (he/him)

“I found out while sitting on the toilet bowl, then my junior from JC texted me a Mothership article and said, ‘Are you affected by this?’ And halfway through the Mothership article, then I was informed via email,” said K, a deferred matriculant who has less than three months left until the end of his National Service (NS).

The morning of August 27 was a fateful one, not just for current Yale-NUS students, but also for the many deferred matriculants who had already committed themselves to the liberal arts college. Many of the deferred matriculants who spoke with The Octant did not hear about the closure of their prospective college through the 9 AM town hall that Friday. 

Reception from the deferred matriculants toward the news was largely negative. Dylan, a deferred matriculant who was originally due to matriculate in 2022 due to NS obligations, summed up his feelings in a single word: “cheated.” 

A deferred matriculant who preferred to be known as Shawn remarked: “I’m just quite regretful that I’ll never be able to experience it firsthand.” Shawn had learned of the news amid a busy day serving his NS.

Nicole, a deferred matriculant who had taken a gap year and was originally slated to matriculate in 2022, said: “How do I feel about the ‘merger’? It was extremely disappointing, like very demoralizing, because just in the way that it was delivered to us…? Like the [manner] in which it was revealed to the public, I would say it is somewhat careless.”

The letter from the Yale-NUS Admissions and Finance team welcoming deferred matriculants to the Class of 2026. Credit: JW

Why Yale-NUS?

Prior to the upsetting revelation, these deferred matriculants were much like anyone would be after they had found out about their acceptance into Yale-NUS—anticipating, imagining, excited, hopeful—even if it would be some time before they could join the community proper. They each had clear reasons for their decision. That conscious decision came with dreams and much planning for the path ahead.

There was a consensus that it was the unique model of a small liberal arts college in Asia that drew them to Yale-NUS, with the top factors being small class sizes, in-house majors (and flexibility of said majors), a unique, interdisciplinary Common Curriculum that insisted on covering material from around the world, a fully residential program, and a highly diverse yet close-knit community. 

JW is a deferred matriculant due to complete his NS in January 2022. “I really liked the vibe and campus experience,” he reminisced. JW had attended the college’s “Kingfisher for a Day” program, where students from local pre-university institutions could experience a typical day in the life of a Yale-NUS student. If he had had his way, JW would have majored in history with a minor in philosophy (specifically Asian philosophy) at Yale-NUS. 

He further remarked on the potential for deep rapport between faculty and students here, saying, “The professors who teach [you] the Common Curriculum can also see your four-year progress.” Outside of academics, JW expressed his passion for international chess, and was keen to join the ranks of GAMBIT, the Yale-NUS Chess Club.

Axel, a deferred matriculant serving NS, has spent 17 years living and studying in Malaysia. He had originally set his sights on the Global Affairs or Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) major, with a strong desire to pursue the Concurrent Degree Programme and Master’s program pathway with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). 

He said: “I was proud to be Singaporean, but still greatly appreciated outside perspectives and structures, and the idea of having the best of both worlds meet in Yale-NUS felt like a dream to me, it felt like I found the place I truly belonged in.”

Shawn, who was involved in community service and football before NS, expressed his excitement for the college community. “I wanted to step outside my comfort zone as I’ve all along been growing up under the Singaporean education system. I felt that by coming to Yale-NUS, I could challenge some long-held normative beliefs and expose myself to more diverse perspectives.”

Many of the deferred matriculants also cited financial reasons for committing to the college. Nicole, an international deferred matriculant who has spent her whole life in Asia, stated that the option of heading to the United States for a liberal arts education would have been “far and very expensive,” and that it was much more affordable to attend Yale-NUS. She was also very fond of the college’s location in Asia. 

Arthur, a deferred matriculant serving NS who was interested in the PPE major and Global Antiquity minor, highlighted that the Ministry of Education (MOE) Tuition Fee Loan scheme has allowed many Singaporean students like him to gain unprecedented access to a liberal arts education. Schemes like this often supplement the college’s generous financial aid. The need-blind admission policy for local students also allows lower-income students the same chance of being admitted as full-fee paying students. 

The Yale-NUS College and New College Switcheroo

For these deferred matriculants, who had in mind a very specific kind of university experience and who had already committed their futures to Yale-NUS, the “merger” dampened their hopes of ever seeing these dreams come to pass. 

“I was able to genuinely look forward to something in NS, and now that feeling of expectance has been taken away,” said Dylan. 

Shawn said: “I’ve served my National Service—or am about to finish National Service—and I’ve served with a lot of pride and enthusiasm. But now that I look back on it, you look at it a bit regretfully—you missed an opportunity there because of those two years spent when your batchmates moved on and managed to secure the education experience you had wanted.”

For Axel, the probable loss of the myriad opportunities and experiences offered by Yale-NUS hit hard. “It heartbreakingly crushes all the hard work and aspirations we put behind applying to YNC, and all the joy and ecstasy we got after opening that offer letter.”

JW added: “It feels like you lost a college that you had a best fit for, and you’re not too sure if this New College will be the same level of fit that you had.”

Nicole, who took a gap year to focus on volunteer work and try out new things that had piqued her interest, did not regret her decision because it was always something she had wanted to do before coming to Yale-NUS. 

“But if they had thought to tell people who were admitted in 2025 about this decision… I’m just thinking about all the people whom they would have affected, the people who would choose not to go Yale-NUS at all, or [who would have] taken up offers elsewhere, people who made different choices like me… because if they told me this, I know I would have definitely gone [to Yale-NUS] this year, not because it’s worth more than a gap year to me, but just ‘cause there would be no more Yale-NUS to go to,” she added.

Instead, the deferred matriculants are now offered automatic admission into the New College, an imitation of what they were promised, and one that has yet to be concretely conceptualized or structured. It is as though they were expected to believe that the New College could qualify as a replacement for what they had worked (and are still working) towards.

A virtual town hall for the Yale-NUS deferred matriculants was convened on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 4, to provide more information to the deferred matriculants about the kind of education and experience they may expect from the New College and NUS. The Octant understands that a group of deferred matriculants had met the night prior to the town hall and filed a few main questions and concerns in an email to the administration. However, the situation remains shrouded in uncertainty.

“They kept saying they wanted to ‘honor their promises to us’ since we had accepted an offer at Yale-NUS College. The thing about New College is, we still don’t know so much about it,” said Nicole.

“I’m not sure if these promises will be carried over,” said JW. “It’s quite scary that they’re still working on the details.”

Some of the main concerns that deferred matriculants felt insufficiently addressed include academics. Shawn, who had intended to pursue Urban Studies at Yale-NUS, noted that there were attempts to tackle the translatability of such interdisciplinary majors at NUS during the town hall, but they did not seem well thought out. Notably, the administrators present at the town hall had suggested the single-degree program of Real Estate as an alternative to Urban Studies, despite the stark difference between these two fields. He is thus baffled at the prospect of having to now review his academic plans in a mere few months.

Meanwhile, for K, losing the breadth of international experiences was the main cause for concern. He said: “I don’t have any doubts about the academic rigor at NUS and the quality of the teaching. I’m sure it’ll be fine. What’s crucial is that you don’t get to live with 45% international students, and you don’t get to have 12 AM chats with them about the classes you took together.”

“The environment will change. And fundamentally it’s not a liberal arts college anymore, it’s an honors college which maybe took some aspects of Yale-NUS, but definitely not the parts a lot of us hold dear that actually have a lot of tangible, pragmatic value.”

He elaborated that Yale-NUS had been highly accessible for Singaporean students financially, especially for those from a lower-income background. “And I think that’s unique in this boat. Where else are we really making such education so equitable for everyone, so accessible for everyone? That’s what education should be, right?”

K also commented on the reported motivation behind the “merger” decision. “When we talk about expanding the scale, we are really levelling down what was originally there. And I think that’s dangerous. I don’t think that’s what we should be doing in this country.”

Arthur echoed K’s sentiments. “What is the price for this increased scale? Is this actually worth the sacrifice? Are we sacrificing too much for this scale?” he questioned.

The Top-Down Approach

Unsurprisingly, the top-down nature of the “merger” decision was deeply disappointing and troubling for the deferred matriculants. A few of the deferred matriculants also noted that both the NUS President and Yale-NUS President were absent during their town hall meeting, which rubbed salt into an open wound. They feel a certain amount of frustration at how deferred matriculants are being treated differently from current matriculants, even if they do understand that it is inevitable. 

JW expressed bitterly, “the town hall wasn’t a consultative process; it was just the YNC and NUS admin relaying decisions that are already made.” 

These deferred matriculants will be the inaugural class or the New College if it proceeds as planned, but they feel sidelined and excluded from the very start. “They tried comparing us to the [Yale-NUS] Class of 2017, but there was more consultation [done] in the past. I’m not sure if we will have the same level of influence or say,” JW added.

Shawn lamented: “These decision makers failed to consider those who are left behind because of military service. It feels like there was a lack of consideration for these issues on the ground, when I felt like they should’ve been more empathetic to this situation. We didn’t determine when we would serve NS.”

On the special arrangements made by the administration to honor their promises to Yale-NUS deferred matriculants, K remarked in a resigned tone: “The feeling I got was that they were trying to pacify the students because there’s a certain acknowledgment on their end that what happened wasn’t right. The only reason you’re offering that deal, I would say, is because we know that fundamentally something is wrong here when you change the offer. I mean the admissions letter said, ‘Welcome to the Class of 2026,’ and now—and now that’s gone.”

Nonetheless, the deferred matriculants recognized and appreciated the efforts of the administrators who were present at the town hall, especially those of Professor Roberts and Dean Severin. 

“I can understand that they’re doing their best—Laura and Joanne—in understanding our concerns,” said Arthur. “We were quite surprised—pleasantly—that at the start of the town hall, they acknowledged and addressed the queries that we had sent them beforehand. They showed us that they were doing their best to look out for our concerns.”

Axel said: “These could be viewed as being the bare minimum from some, but I guess I’m just glad that we weren’t completely forgotten and tossed aside by NUS.”

“They were very honest that we won’t be able to get the exact YNC experience, but they’ll try,” said Dylan.

A deferred matriculant who wished to remain anonymous added: “The town hall may not have addressed all my concerns as many of the answers were a hope rather than a promise, but it provided me security that there is a team working towards a best possible New College.”

However, the deferred matriculant pointed to the lack of consultation with key personnel such as these admissions officers, and said: “I felt that an extended time before the announcement should minimally be given to them to work on the details of the New College.”

Yale-NUS as seen from below. Credit: Toh Hong Jin

The Road Ahead

The clock ticks on mercilessly in the thick of grief and broken dreams. While there has yet to be an acceptance deadline announced at the time of writing, the offer of automatic admission into New College and a single-degree program of their choice is hovering just above the horizon. 

The majority of the deferred matriculants who spoke to The Octant remain in a dilemma. For Nicole, the ideals behind the decision to make a liberal arts education more accessible and inclusive are admirable, but the removal of the legacies that USP and Yale-NUS have built over time makes her doubtful whether she will take up the offer. She said, “You’re entering this kind of institution where decisions like this can happen at a moment’s notice. It makes you cautious.” 

“What’s on paper is almost always not necessarily what translates into real life. A community takes time, a sense of belonging—it has to be cultivated,” she added.

Dylan appears more inclined towards rejecting his offer. The “deal breakers,” in his words, are that one could no longer expect to receive the vibrant, international perspective characteristic of Yale-NUS, and that the New College will not be a liberal arts institution anymore. He added: “You can try to replicate the college in structure, but you can’t replace the people, the intangible, and the unique.”

While they understand that they are not in an advantageous position to bargain, a few deferred matriculants are still hoping that they can recover pieces of their dreams and attain some semblance of the experience which they had been promised.

“After the town hall, many of us were talking and we feel like there’s still so much more that Yale-NUS and NUS could do together to find a way to honor their commitment to us, rather than just trying to sell the idea of CHS and the New College to us,” said Shawn. “[But] I’m open to seeing what it can offer to us and whether or not it can suit what we wanted from the Yale-NUS education that we signed up for.”

“Following this merger, those of us to whom the option of an overseas liberal arts education is closed off because of costs do not have that many options left,” said Arthur. “Perhaps [the loss of] an authentic liberal arts education will be the price we have to pay for New College. It remains to be seen which ‘best elements of YNC and USP’ will be retained at the New College, and whether these can actually be retained.”

Axel remarked that it is likely he will end up in the New College. He said: “It is still the closest thing to Yale-NUS that Singapore has to offer, even if it’s a far, far cry from what it’s replacing. I don’t have the luxury of affording similar liberal arts institutions overseas, and honestly the Yale-NUS application process and journey was both physically and emotionally draining for me, and I don’t want to go through that again with another university.” 

Speaking about the special academic arrangements made for the deferred matriculants, Axel also hopes that NUS could continue offering the special Concurrent Degree Programme and Master’s program pathway with the LKYSPP in some form.

K, who fears that the New College will be “a step backwards” for the education landscape in Singapore, nevertheless hopes that it will provide more autonomy and breathing room to different groups to organize their activities. He also hopes that the New College can somehow offer an international exposure that is truly built into the system (and not just as a side activity), so that they can develop a more outward view and a more global perspective. 

In terms of administration and teaching, K said, “I hope that there can be a culture of open communication. I hope that we’ll be given the tools to reach our own conclusions rather than having answers prescribed to us, and we can challenge each other’s conclusions, and really learn from them.”

Still, JW feels that the New College may not necessarily turn out badly. “The more say students have in their education experience, the better the experience will be,” he said.

“It’s what we make of it.”

Yale-NUS Deferred Matriculants Offered Four-Year Residency and Choice of Degree Program; Financial Aid Reapplication Needed

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A hammock in front of the Cendana gate
Credit: Darren Ang

Story | Toh Hong Jin (he/him), Guest Reporter
Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)

A virtual town hall for Yale-NUS College deferred matriculants was convened on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 4, to provide them with more information about the New College and how the recent “merger” between Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP) affects them. 

With Yale-NUS and USP no longer admitting new students in preparation for the “merger” of both colleges, Yale-NUS deferred matriculants were previously offered automatic admission into the New College and a single-degree program of their choice under the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS).

The town hall was hosted by Joanne Roberts, Yale-NUS Executive Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Laura Severin, Yale-NUS Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Kang Hway Chuan, Director of the University Scholars Programme, and Goh Say Song, Dean of Admissions at NUS.

The panel clarified that on top of automatic admission into the New College, deferred matriculants may now choose single-degree programs from all NUS faculties except Medicine, Dentistry, Law, and Music. A few programs, namely Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial Design, and Nursing, will require a further test or interview for entry. 

Deferred matriculants who had been accepted for the Double Degree Programme (DDP) in Law and Liberal Arts were offered three additional options for consideration: admission into the NUS Law single-degree program, admission into other existing NUS DDPs with Law such as Business Administration and Law, or the deferred matriculant can propose other combinations of DDP with Law (subject to feasibility), which is usually not allowed for NUS students. 

The options received mixed responses from deferred matriculants. A deferred matriculant who preferred to be identified as Shawn said: “My preference was to take Urban Studies as my major, and I was quite set on taking it and throughout my NS I researched more about it. But with this offer, there is no more of this. There isn’t Urban Studies available anymore.”

During the town hall’s Q&A, participants questioned whether interdisciplinary majors from Yale-NUS like Urban Studies could still be pursued in NUS. Shawn elaborated, “The NUS administrator that answered, I think he has good intentions at heart. But it felt like they didn’t spare any concern for the loss of these specific majors in YNC when they transferred us immediately, as they suggested Real Estate as an alternative to Urban Studies even though they’re very different subjects.” 

Meanwhile, JW, a deferred matriculant who had wished to major in History at Yale-NUS, remarked: “NUS History is quite strong. And I can say this because I know many of my teachers were from there, so I’m not that worried about the academic rigor.”

In terms of residential life, the panel revealed that deferred matriculants will be granted a full four-year residency at the New College, an exception from the limited two-year residency guaranteed for other future students.

Arthur, a deferred matriculant originally due to matriculate in 2022, felt that the town hall did address some of the concerns about whether deferred matriculants could attain an experience close to that of Yale-NUS, which was what they had all signed up for. “But I think some of us hope that they could go a bit further, for example in allowing us to stay at one of Yale-NUS’s residential colleges of our choosing, because this was what we were envisioning,” he said.

Tuition fees will be charged according to the deferred matriculants’ degree program of choice. Meanwhile, fees for room and board at the New College have not been determined, though they are projected to be somewhere between $7,000 and $9,050, the amounts currently charged by USP and Yale-NUS respectively.

Deferred matriculants who had previously been assessed for financial aid by the Yale-NUS Admissions and Financial Aid Team will have to reapply for financial aid from NUS. The Team will follow up with separate, more individualized consultation sessions for these deferred matriculants on financial aid matters. They may also apply for NUS scholarships from February 2022.

The above arrangements were made by the Yale-NUS administration to honor their promises to the Yale-NUS deferred matriculants. Should they accept the offer, deferred matriculants will graduate with an NUS degree from their respective faculties and a certificate from the New College.

The Admissions and Financial Aid Team will be sharing more information with deferred matriculants in the coming weeks. 

Back to School: Yale-NUS in the Week After Closure Announcement

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A student writing messages on YNC Spirit Wall outside of Saga Dining Hall

Story | Naia Nathan (she/her), Contributing Reporter
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

At the August 27 town hall where it was announced that Yale-NUS College would be closing, Madam Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, Chair of the Yale-NUS Governing Board, declared that life at Yale-NUS would be “business as usual” going forward. In the wake of the grief and anger following the announcement, students and staff alike couldn’t fathom how this would be. 

Apart from canceled classes on the 27th, school did resume. This article reflects on how the members of the Yale-NUS community dealt with this.

A safe, reflective space

Suffice to say, academic life at Yale-NUS was not business as usual for the most part in the week after the announcement. Many class loads were reduced, students took time off lessons, and some professors spent lessons reflecting on the announcement rather than pressing on with academic content. 

That Monday, May-yi Shaw, Assistant Dean of Cendana College, emailed students to say that while many professors still hoped to hold their classes as usual, they would also treat it as a “safe and reflective space” to “talk and process things together.”

Max Pasakorn ‘24 was grateful that this was the case in some of his classes. “Thankfully, some professors gave us the space and time to process our thoughts and emotions. They spoke to us about how they felt about the college, and about our futures.” 

The Octant also spoke to four students who missed classes to recuperate from the impact of the news. They affirmed that they were able to take time off without being penalized, either by receiving AD notes or speaking to professors directly.

Several classes also reduced or modified the curriculum to support students, particularly for Common Curriculum classes. The Scientific Inquiry teaching team reduced homework and readings for sophomores by half for two weeks after the announcement, while the Comparative Social Inquiry teaching team removed one topic from the syllabus to reduce first-year students’ academic load.

However, some professors pushed on with classes, shifting content that was meant to be covered on Friday’s canceled classes to the next lesson. To some, this provided stability but also posed a significant challenge. “I was thankful to my prof for pressing on with the lesson because it gave me some semblance of normalcy. But it was also very difficult to move on,” said Eileen Chua ‘24.

In the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts (DDP), on the other hand, students did not experience reduced workloads. A DDP student from the class of 2024 who requested to remain anonymous said: “Law school isn’t as forgiving as Yale-NUS. When the news broke, we asked our professor for an extension of the assignment which was due the next day, but unfortunately, they couldn’t grant it to us.”

“The sky is falling and I’m expected to do readings”

For many, Friday’s announcement was a profoundly destabilizing one, triggering such intense emotions of anxiety, anger, and grief that returning to academic studies felt impossible. Dain Kim ’24 said: “I mean, the sky is falling, and I’m expected to do readings and go to class like the sky is still there? I don’t know how to describe it other than everything being overwhelming and impossible.” 

Benjamin Goh ’22 further described the impossibility of returning to normal life after the town hall, saying: “Our lives were upended in an hour and I was told my alma mater would basically disappear in the span of four years. Yet, I had to do my readings. I had to do my assignments. I really couldn’t summon the strength to do anything or to read anything.”

Shaw echoed the despair faced by students in the wake of the announcement. In an email to The Octant, she reflected on students’ reactions to a water play event organized by Cendana College on September 1, writing: “Those who participated seemed to have so much fun that I bet to any outside visitor, it would have appeared as if life had gone on as usual … But the reality is, the facade of our students coming together to talk, play, hold events, or initiate projects together in such spontaneous and creative ways over this past week perhaps reflects a deep layer of despair and sense of powerlessness, as they didn’t know what else they could do to mend the hurt.”

She continued: “The angrier they [were] at this feeling of having their own agency stripped away, the more they resorted to temporary outlets, such as in the form of the water play. To me, it was far from being a moment of fun; it was perhaps more of a chilling moment of catharsis (and a sad, agonizing one), regardless of how it appeared to be.”

“Pointless”

Post-announcement, students have struggled with finding the motivation to continue with academic work. An international student studying remotely, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Staying motivated is already hard enough when you are remote.” After the announcement, they felt no motivation to go to class. 

More severely, a growing sense of the pointlessness of following the academic program was echoed by some students. 

Odette Yiu ‘24 said: “Learning determined and allocated by an institution whose rules, schedule and fancies you need to abide by feels pointless indeed. Any previous sense I had of academic overwork being arbitrary has now been validated.” 

Kim further said: “If normal ever meant anything, it meant nothing now… my old schedule and classes seemed nothing more than a farce”. 

This deeper sense of alienation and meaninglessness impaired students from being able to engage in school activities the week of the announcement and could impact the mood of the school going forward. It remains to be seen, though, whether such sentiments will last and if they will spur any changes in the school.

Hope

Amidst the pain, many have found hope in advocacy against the merger. In the week following the announcement, T-shirts bearing the “I made it, thanks.” slogan were printed in solidarity, referencing the comments made by Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, on the decision to close Yale-NUS. A website memorializing community reactions to the merger was also launched, while the #NoMoreTopDown petition calling for greater accountability from NUS garnered over 14,500 signatures at press time. These efforts have brought genuine hope to students that the merger will be reversed.

Many students shared that they did not consider the decision final and felt that it was time to fight, not grieve. As Yiu put it, rather than “mourn as if things are absolutely final, I choose to be angry.” They continued: “The #NoMoreTopDown [movement] has brought me a lot of hope.”

Chloe Ang ’24 expressed gratitude for the various solidarity efforts. They reflected that in Singapore, many are socialized to believe that if higher-ups make decisions, you simply have to follow. “This is the first place I found I could mobilize and demand more,” they said.

You’re hurting, I’m hurting; how can I support you?

Many have also found solace in solidarity with the community. Through the shared experience of pain, there has been an outpouring of mutual support and stronger unity within the school. Many members of the Yale-NUS community shared that strangers, students, friends, and faculty alike checked in on each other regularly and offered support.

Petrina Loh, Senior Manager of the Student Affairs Office, shared: “When I walked around campus, so many students stopped to ask me how I was doing… So many students whom I know are in pain were also the ones checking in, which is so beautiful. It’s such a reflection of our community… I got so many emails from alumni and current students asking: ‘How are you doing? I know how much effort you put into the school. You’re hurting, I’m hurting; how can I support you?’ It’s just really beautiful.”

This sense of community was also displayed and furthered by how student organizations and even individual students organized events that promoted the school spirit of their own accord. On the day of the announcement, a durian festival was held by the Yale-NUS Southeast Asian Society. In the next few weeks, other ground-up initiatives such as the Visual Arts Society’s urban sketching and art therapy sessions emerged. Residential Colleges also organized solidarity events, with Elm and Cendana holding a candlelight ceremony, Cendana holding a water play event, and Saga holding a solidarity picnic. 

Daniel Lee ‘24, President of the Southeast Asian Society, reflected on their decision to go ahead with the durian festival the day of the announcement. “We could have canceled the event, but the prevailing thought in my mind was that this was the time to show what the Yale-NUS community is all about.” 

Will the New College be “a paragon of academic freedom in Singapore” like Yale-NUS?

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A shot of a group of students at the Performance Hall Foyer at Yale-NUS College

Story | Daniel Ng & Daryl Yang (he/him), Guest Writers
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

In our previous article, we discussed whether the Yale-NUS experiment succeeded as a liberal arts college in Singapore and the importance of equal participation of students. Since our article, this principle of equal participation was echoed by a journalist, who noted that it is “this aspect of community building that stands out for [her] when it comes to Yale-NUS College.” NUS President Tan Eng Chye also affirmed that he “consider[s] Yale-NUS a great success” in The Straits Times while Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing observed in Parliament that Yale-NUS is “seen as a paragon of academic freedom” despite doubts about a liberal arts college in Singapore at its inception.

In this piece, we address Chan’s claim that the academic freedoms enjoyed at Yale-NUS “were created by taking reference from NUS’ practices, and that these practices have remained unchanged since then.” This claim may not be entirely accurate and may have to do with Chan’s narrow definition of academic freedom as referring only to research and classroom teaching. We first trace how Yale-NUS became what Chan calls the “paragon of academic freedom in Singapore” and how it conceived of academic freedom more broadly as also comprising learning outside the classroom as well as student life. We then make three recommendations on how the New College can continue to be a paragon of academic freedom and free inquiry which will allow the liberal arts to thrive.

How did Yale-NUS become a Paragon of Academic Freedom?

Since the college’s inception, skeptics of its pedagogical experiment in Singapore have questioned whether a liberal arts college can survive and thrive in a country where the freedoms of speech and assembly are limited. For instance, the American Association of University Professors charged that “one needs to give serious consideration to whether academic freedom, and the personal freedoms that are a necessary prerequisite to its exercise, can in fact be sustained on a campus within what is a substantially authoritarian regime.” 

However, as Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing noted during the recent September 2021 parliamentary sitting: “Few believed [10 years ago] that Yale-NUS would live up to its ambition… It is perhaps ironic and a testimony to National University of Singapore (NUS) and Yale-NUS’ efforts all these years, that Yale-NUS is now seen as a paragon of academic freedom in Singapore.”

In his parliamentary speech, Chan claimed that Yale-NUS’s policies on academic freedom were created by taking reference from NUS’s practices. However, it is not clear what these NUS practices are. As Sina Westa observed, the phrase “academic freedom” is not mentioned anywhere in NUS’s statutes or regulations. In Westa’s words, “academic freedom is [not] a talked about issue in Singapore [or] in the National University of Singapore.” 

Notably, in 1986, when Member of Parliament J.B. Jeyaretnam asked about the Government’s policy towards academic freedom, then Minister for Education Tony Tan did not explicitly address the concept except to say that NUS “expects its academic staff to ensure that what they publish is carefully researched, accurate and of high academic standard.” He also noted that “when staff members, especially expatriates, express opinions on areas likely to generate domestic political controversy, they do so on their own personal behalf and not that of the department or faculty they teach in.”  

Chan’s assertion also runs contrary to the former Yale University President Richard C. Levin’s Presidential Statement in 2012 where he noted that Yale had entered the partnership to set up Yale-NUS “in full awareness that national laws concerning freedom of expression would place constraints on the civic and political behavior of students and faculty.” In this context, he explained, “[w]e negotiated language protecting academic freedom and open inquiry on the Yale-NUS campus, as well as the freedom to publish the results of scholarly inquiry in the academic literature” (emphasis added). 

The language that Levin was referring to is enshrined in Yale-NUS’s policies on academic freedom and non-discrimination. In addition, the Faculty Statement on the Freedom of Expression states that the college is “firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms—a central tenet of liberal arts education. There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution.” 

This explicit affirmation of academic freedom at Yale-NUS allowed students to explore their academic interests not only in the classroom but also outside of it through talks, workshops, and student activities which allow them to explore their academic interests not just through reading and research but also through community engagement. Immediately after the inaugural class was formed, students came together to set up the first LGBTQ+ student group in Singapore, The G Spot, to examine issues around gender and sexuality. In 2015, the now defunct Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association (YIRPA) organized the Policies Not Platitudes forum and invited representatives from nine political parties running in the 2015 General Elections to speak and debate on their parties’ policy proposals. Subsequently, a group of Yale-NUS students founded the Community for Advocacy & Political Education (CAPE) in 2017 together with some NUS students to increase political literacy among young Singaporeans. Since then, Yale-NUS students have gone on to help organize the Singapore Climate Rally and contribute to legislative debates on the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods & Manipulation Act as well as public discourse on important issues through publications such as Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene, which presents alternative viewpoints for thinking about Singapore’s developmental story. 

Of course, there were instances where the contours of academic freedom and free inquiry at Yale-NUS came into question. After all, academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech and does not exempt the Yale-NUS campus or community from Singapore law. As an experiment looking to adapt Yale’s liberal arts model to Singapore and Asia, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested, these episodes are to be expected—and even embraced as part of the experiment. 

Indeed, the first time that the contours of academic freedom appear to have been explicitly addressed by the Government was in 2019, after a Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries module titled “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore” by playwright Alfian Sa’at was canceled two weeks before it was to commence. Despite findings by the Yale Faculty Advisory Committee on the cancellation which reassured Yale President Peter Salovey of Yale-NUS’s “strong commitment to academic freedom,” many wondered if the cancellation of the Week 7 program was politically motivated. 

Among those concerned were several Members of Parliament who fielded multiple parliamentary questions on the cancellation, including Nominated Member of Parliament Assoc Prof Walter Theseira who asked how the Government intends to assure university students and faculty that they “continue to have the academic freedom to responsibly and critically examine social and political issues in Singapore.” 

In response, Ong Ye Kung, then Minister for Education, affirmed that the Government “values academic freedom” which allows universities to “create new knowledge, innovate and contribute to scientific, technological, economic and social progress.” He then set out four principles in determining what activities are permitted on university campuses: first, compliance with Singapore law; second, adherence to the mission of advancing education and maintaining high academic standards; third, protection of universities from misuse as platforms for partisan politics; and finally, sensitivity to Singapore’s cultural and social context. 

These principles would be familiar to the Yale-NUS community, which has been navigating and negotiating the “gray space” that the college occupies. This “gray space” exists because of the explicit guarantees of academic freedom and free inquiry that the founding members of the Yale-NUS community secured in 2012. Because of this “gray space,” Yale-NUS could become a “paragon of academic freedom,” as Chan called it, as students, staff, and faculty pushed the boundaries of learning both inside and outside the classroom. 

This does not mean that such freedoms are unlimited; rather, as former Rector of Elm College and Professor of Philosophy Amber Carpenter noted, “Being located in Singapore requires us to be more thoughtful and reflective about what public discourse is, what the various kinds of freedom are and what good they might be.” Yale-NUS’s experience thus far is instructive and New College should foster an environment that sustains these reflections and negotiations. 

Protecting Academic Freedom and Free Inquiry at the New College

It is currently unclear whether the New College will also enjoy this “gray space” given that there is no explicit guarantee of academic freedom and free inquiry on NUS’s website or in its constitutional documents. The NUS administration and the Education Minister have also not provided any reassurances that these principles will be part of the “best of… the Yale-NUS foundation” to be retained at New College.

Notably, a recent survey conducted by AcademiaSG suggests that this ambiguity has raised concerns about the existence and strength of academic freedom in Singapore. The survey found that more than three-quarters (77.5%) of around 200 Singapore-based academics and researchers believed that universities in Singapore only exercise “some” institutional autonomy or less. Around one-third of male academics (33.1%) and more than half (50.9%) of female academics did not feel that they could freely invite guest speakers. 

To avoid any misunderstanding, this is not to say that academics in institutions other than Yale-NUS have not enjoyed any academic freedom at all; instead, as Assoc Prof Daniel Goh helpfully points out, academics at NUS have often been able to conduct research on and teach difficult and controversial subjects long before Yale-NUS’s establishment. Nevertheless, if the New College is to succeed, we believe that it must take seriously the critical importance of academic freedom and free inquiry in the liberal arts and its extension beyond the sphere of academic research to the sphere of learning outside the classroom as well. 

To quell any potential fears or uncertainty about the experience that future students at New College will enjoy, the NUS administration should actively take steps to guarantee that it will uphold the principles of academic freedom and free inquiry at New College, just as they were upheld at Yale-NUS for all involved parties. A straightforward way to do so is to directly adopt the Yale-NUS Statement on Freedom of Expression and recognize the principle of free inquiry as a cornerstone of the New College. 

Students should also feel supported in exploring their interests both inside and outside the classroom. They should be able to flourish in a pedagogical space where they are allowed to raise difficult, uncomfortable, and controversial questions that interrogate and sometimes challenge power and the status quo. On this, the New College administration should ensure that students can organize activities and events that contribute to a diversity of perspectives and experiences beyond the classroom. We recommend that the current relationship between student organizations and the Dean of Students (DOS) office be retained at New College, where the administration plays an administrative and advisory role rather than gatekeeping when it comes to student activities and events. This is set out in the Yale-NUS Events Policy, where student organization events are considered “Business As Usual” unless the event is large-scale, involves external partners, receives external sponsorship and/or collects registration fees. This “Business As Usual” approach contrasts with NUS’s current approval requirements, where the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) requires students to submit an event proposal at least six (6) weeks prior to the start of any event for approval. 

Finally, to make clear the New College’s and NUS’s commitment to these cardinal principles, the administration should establish an independent academic freedom ombudsman office which will investigate and monitor academic freedom issues that may arise. A similar proposal was recently made last year in the United Kingdom by education think tank Policy Exchange for British universities. The ombudsman office should comprise both local and foreign academics from outside of NUS, who will be able to provide independent assessment and scrutiny of the developments at New College. Its role will be similar to that of Founding Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis, who conducted a fact-finding mission and published a report on the cancellation of the Week 7 program “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore.” The operation of the ombudsman office should subsequently be studied and further expanded to serve the larger NUS community and similar offices should eventually be set up across other Singapore universities. 

As we have earlier argued, the liberal arts can and did flourish in Singapore over the past decade since Yale-NUS College was established. The principles of equal participation as well as academic freedom and free inquiry were key in ensuring that Yale-NUS and its diverse and engaged students flourished. With policies and safeguards in place to ensure the same open environment at New College, we look forward to seeing this new institution thrive just like Yale-NUS College did and continue to cultivate new generations of leaders and thinkers to guide Singapore and the world through an uncertain future. 

——— 

Daniel Ng graduated in 2019 from the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts jointly offered by Yale-NUS College and the NUS Faculty of Law. He furthered his studies at Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar, and is now a practicing lawyer.

Daryl Yang graduated in 2019 from the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts jointly offered by Yale-NUS College and the NUS Faculty of Law. He is currently pursuing a Master of Laws at Berkeley Law School as a Fulbright scholar. 

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

Closure Was Accelerated While in a “Position of Strength”: NUS President Tan Eng Chye

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On a sunny day, a student walks past two trees in Yale-NUS College.
Credit: Joshua Vargas

Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor and Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

Yesterday evening, a virtual town hall for the families of students from Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) was convened to provide more information about the recently announced “merger” between the two colleges and the formation of the New College.

Various senior management members of Yale-NUS, USP, and NUS helmed the town hall, including Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS; Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS; Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS; Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS; and Kang Hway Chuan, Director of USP.

Since the “merger” was made public on August 27, there has been little clarity on the deliberations behind the heavy-handed decision. Yesterday’s town hall came after more than 260 parents of Yale-NUS College students demanded a meeting with Prof. Tan Eng Chye to discuss the reasons for the college’s closure. 

The meeting was scheduled exactly three weeks after the shock announcement. It was revealed that the decision to close Yale-NUS was accelerated by NUS President Tan while the school was in a “position of strength,” before its finances diminished. Several other important details were revealed, particularly in relation to the timing of the decision, statistics on financial issues, and transition plans, in response to many concerned parents’ questions. 

Timeliness: “merger would not have made sense” last year

NUS President Tan explained that the decision was part of a wider goal to introduce “general education” and a “common curriculum” for NUS students. He added that the decision was timely in light of recent developments across NUS, such as the formation of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) late last year and the College of Design and Engineering, announced concurrently with the New College. He claimed that these moves were part of a broader change in NUS toward a system “similar to Yale-NUS.” 

CHS, a collaboration between the Faculty of Science (FOS) and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), was an attempt to scale up interdisciplinary education by adding a common curriculum, similar to that of Yale-NUS, to the existing modules. 

Referring to the “merger” between Yale-NUS and USP, NUS President Tan then explained: “Last year, a merger would not make sense, because there will be incompatibilities between Yale-NUS and USP (sic).”

NUS President Tan said NUS has since changed four of its major faculties to adopt a framework that is similar to Yale-NUS. He continued: “Because of that, USP also has to change to adapt to a framework that is similar to Yale-NUS. That makes a merger possible.”

The two colleges share many common features, including smaller group teaching, a common curriculum, and residential living and learning, as acknowledged by Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament this Monday (Sept 13). There are also significant differences. For example, Yale-NUS students select from a range of 14 majors specifically designed for the college at the end of the second year, whereas USP students are attached to a major faculty at NUS upon matriculation. Moreover, while Yale-NUS has a four-year residential program, USP only requires students to live on campus for two years.  

NUS President Tan did not elaborate on the incompatibilities between Yale-NUS and USP, the similarities between the merged colleges and Yale-NUS’s educational framework, or how NUS’s previous steps in the broader interdisciplinary roadmap now make the “merger” between Yale-NUS and USP possible. 

The New College, Tan said, will be an honors college. Amidst concerns that the decision was a de facto closure of a liberal arts college, Prof. Ho Teck Hua said that while the New College is not strictly a liberal arts college by the U.S. definition, it would still consist of the “fine elements of liberal education.”

According to Ho, some hallmarks of a liberal education include immersive learning, small class sizes, residential learning, and critical thinking.

Financials: “I have basically accelerated the closure.”

NUS President Tan also reiterated that although financial sustainability was not the main consideration in the decision to close Yale-NUS, it was a major factor. However, during the town hall, he repeatedly responded by pointing to finances when answering parents’ questions on the actual motivations behind the closure.

In response to a parent’s question on the aspects of American liberal arts colleges that are incompatible with NUS’s or Singapore’s educational goals, Tan explained that liberal arts colleges in the U.S. are primarily funded through either an endowment or tuition fees. In order to provide accessible and affordable education, Tan said it was important to keep tuition fees low and maintain a high endowment.

Yale-NUS’s endowment target was more than $1 billion. However, despite strong financial support from the Ministry of Education (MOE), only $87 million was raised towards the endowment target. 

As of March 2021, Yale-NUS’s current endowment stands at $429.8 million.

Addressing the financial support provided by MOE, Tan explained: “Singapore has an advantage in that the government provides very strong matching. In the last 10 years, to build this endowment, the government had a seed funding. On top of the seed funding, the first $50 million gets 3:1 matching, like in most institutions. Then, for subsequent donations, you get 1.5 matching.”

Tan added that NUS helped to raise 72% of the $87 million, while Yale-NUS raised the remaining 28%. The Octant has reached out to NUS President Tan to clarify the timeline of the endowment target and fundraising efforts. 

“We worked hard, but we were actually very far away from the target. Because we took away the tuition fee consideration, we can only look at endowment funding,” Tan said. “We haven’t got the right model.”

Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, said in Parliament on Monday (September 13) that MOE provided $48 million to Yale-NUS in the Financial Year 2020. This was more than double the amount provided to other NUS faculties, such as FASS and FOS. 

According to Tan, this $48 million “premium funding” would revert to “normal funding” in March 2022, and the gap between normal and premium funding amounted to “at least $24 million.” The gap would increase every year due to the total income contribution component, which Tan did not elaborate on.

“Because of this, you would have to trim the benefits. You would not be able to have the eight-students-to-one-faculty ratio, and you may not even be able to provide the generous financial aid that Yale-NUS is now providing,” Tan continued. 

Yale-NUS switched to a need-aware admissions policy for the 2021 admission cycle. Jasmine Seah, Director of Admissions, said that 39% of students in the Class of 2025 are receiving financial aid or merit-based scholarships, compared to 57% of students in the Class of 2024. 

Tan said: “I did not have to do the merger. And if I didn’t do the merger, the status quo for Yale-NUS could not stay. Yale-NUS would be diluted as we go along. And perhaps five years down the road, Yale-NUS would still have to face closure.”

“We feel that this is the best time, because we are combining [Yale-NUS and USP] in a position of strength, rather than allowing Yale-NUS to dilute and possibly disappear. I have basically accelerated the closure. There is no need to actually do that, but [because] my entire system in NUS has changed to be similar to Yale-NUS, such a merger makes sense.”

Tan added that MOE, after learning of the decision to close Yale-NUS in 2025, was willing to continue the “premium funding” for the next four years, until Yale-NUS’s last class of students graduates.

Addressing a question on what other options were considered in lieu of the closure, Tan assured that the NUS management had considered “many other options,” before ultimately deciding that “combining” Yale-NUS and USP was the best way forward. He did not elaborate on what the other options considered were.

Stakeholders: “All the appropriate consultations” were made 

A key concern among parents and students was the lack of consultation with faculty, staff, and students while the closure of Yale-NUS was being deliberated by NUS senior leadership. 

In response to this, NUS President Tan claimed that he has made “all the appropriate consultations,” including with the NUS Board of Trustees, the Yale administration, and MOE. In early August, the 21 members on the NUS Board of Trustees then endorsed the decision in a unanimous vote.

“We cannot have more wider consultations,” he said, “because it is actually a sensitive discussion between NUS and Yale University on matters which focus on strategies as well as finance.” 

More details about his behind-the-scenes discussions with Yale University in July were also revealed. “I was actually anticipating that I may take six to nine months for this discussion,” Tan said, referring to his conversation with Peter Salovey, President of Yale University. In reality, it only took two weeks for Yale to “acknowledge” and note that it was NUS’s prerogative under an agreement between the two universities.

Tan said: “This is a very considered decision, one that is made in the interests of NUS as a public university. As a public university, one of our most important stakeholders is the MOE.”

After the decision was finalized, the Yale and NUS senior managements moved quickly to announce the closure of the two colleges before the admissions cycle began in September to ensure that no new applicants would be misled, Tan explained.

When questioned by a parent during the live Q&A segment on the ability of the NUS Board of Trustees and the Yale-NUS Governing Board to exercise their fiduciary duties, given that the decision was presented to both as faits accomplis, NUS President Tan responded with an assurance of the boards’ independence.

“Our Board of Trustees acted independently. Teck Hua is on the board, we have been on the board, and I’m sure many of you have been on boards before,” Tan said. “You would know very well: How can you force a board? That would be unheard of.”

Tan and another member of the NUS Board of Trustees, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, are also part of the Yale-NUS Governing Board

Transition to the New College

There are no concrete plans for the New College curriculum at the moment. However, Tan pointed out that unlike Yale-NUS, the New College does not have to hire new faculty to build its curriculum completely from scratch. 

Instead, Tan said that there were already talented faculty members from Yale-NUS, USP, and the wider NUS who would help to design the new curriculum. Ho added that this curriculum is expected to be developed within six to nine months.

Roberts also said that faculty would not be expected to do additional work with the New College on top of teaching the Yale-NUS load, in order not to overwhelm them.

When a parent asked during the live Q&A segment whether the New College could be delayed to ensure that a best-in-class curriculum could be built, the panelists did not respond.

During the transition period as Yale-NUS shuts down, Tan and Roberts assured that there were plans in place to bring in faculty from NUS should the need arise due to faculty turnover. Roberts added that Yale-NUS is still committed to offering the full range of majors and diverse classes, even as the Yale-NUS student population continues to shrink as the remaining batches graduate. She said that Yale-NUS classes will be opened up to New College students to maintain an appropriate class size and level of diversity.

Tan and Roberts also said that a small office would be set up within the New College to support students who will remain in Yale-NUS after 2025. This group of students includes those taking the Double Degree Programme with Law, as well as students who take a gap semester or year.

Prof. Kang Hway Chuan, meanwhile, expects a greater sense of continuity for USP students despite the earlier transition to the New College. Unlike Yale-NUS students, USP students will transition to the New College in the next academic year, together with the inaugural class of New College students.

Kang pointed out that the USP graduation requirements parallel those of the New College, as the major requirements for both programs are fulfilled in the various NUS faculties and schools.

He said: “It makes sense, in a way, for USP to join smoothly into the New College curriculum. In fact, USP faculty constantly come up with new modules, so each year there will be a greater choice of modules.”

“If you think of this as a disruption… you should think of it as a good disruption, because it increases your choices.”

Closure?

With many parents continuing to ask questions about the decision toward the end of the two-hour-long town hall, Ho interrupted NUS President Tan in the middle of his response to a question toward the end of the live Q&A segment: “I would like everybody here to look ahead and look forward to the New College. We’ll get input from everybody, and I hope that we can create a New College that is truly outstanding: a world-class institution we can look back on 50 years from now.”

“I’m optimistic that the New College will do really well because, from day one, we consult everybody,” Ho said, pointing to the various members of the Yale-NUS and USP administrations’ involvement in the transition committees.

“I want everybody to go away from this town hall with a little kind of hope. I know it’s hard, I know it’s very difficult, but we’re not closing down or starting new things. This is a merger, and we do create a new entity called the New College. And we promise to combine the best of both USP and Yale-NUS. ”

The Octant has reached out to Prof. Tan Eng Chye for clarifications on some of his statements. 

“At Yale We Build to Last”: An Interview With Charles Bailyn, Yale-NUS Inaugural Dean of Faculty

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Charles Bailyn smiling, in a grey suit
Credit: The Academy for Teachers

Story | Suman Padhi (she/her), Contributing Reporter
Photo | The Academy for Teachers

Charles Bailyn is currently the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, and the inaugural head of the Benjamin Franklin College in Yale College. He was the inaugural Dean of Faculty for Yale-NUS College from 2011 to 2016. Prior to this, he was the Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Yale Astronomy Department.

The Octant contacted Prof. Bailyn via email to answer some questions and express his opinions on the closure of Yale-NUS, which has since evoked public outcry. He later replied with his responses at the beginning of this week.

Suman Padhi (SP): How did you feel when you first learned about the closure of Yale-NUS? How do you feel now?

Charles Bailyn (CB): I was very sad that the institution will not continue, but also proud of what we achieved in the time we were given. That feeling has persisted, and I expect I will feel that way for as long as I feel anything.

SP: The decision has been quite unpopular in the Yale-NUS community, and many are calling on the NUS management for more accountability and transparency.  

What do you think about the decision-making process on NUS management’s side? 

CB: I have no particular insight into the NUS decision-making process. I’m a long way away right now! The decision came as a complete surprise to me. I only heard the day before the Town Meeting that this was even being contemplated.

SP: What do you believe Yale should have done or should do to ensure more accountability from NUS in the decision making?

CB: There’s nothing Yale could have done. I imagine that the Yale representatives on the Board of Governors did what they could to promote a different outcome, but NUS had the right (as Yale did) to leave the partnership in 2025, and if they chose to exercise that right, then that’s that.

SP: What do you think the dissolution of Yale-NUS means for the future of liberal arts in Asia as a whole? 

CB: My hope is that the surge of interest in liberal arts in Asia will continue even after the dissolution of Yale-NUS. It’s important to note that NUS management do want to continue with a strong liberal arts program, albeit in a different form. I hope that the basic model of liberal arts education, as well as many of the specific curricular and extra-curricular innovations that Yale-NUS introduced, will continue to expand both in Singapore and in the region.

SP: Why wasn’t Yale in favor of the dissolution of Yale-NUS, in your opinion?

CB: One of the particular features of Yale, which is highlighted by the differences over this decision, is that at Yale we build to last. That’s why the institution is still going strong over three centuries after its founding. I’m very conscious of this in my current role as the inaugural Head of College of Benjamin Franklin College (BF), a new residential college founded by Yale in 2017. Founding a residential college is not as grand an undertaking as a whole new institution! But I am absolutely confident that BF will outlast any of its founders, and still be in operation hundreds of years from now. You can see it in the architecture—you can see it in the attitudes of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. 

So when Yale participated in the founding of Yale-NUS, there was the expectation that the new institution would outlast us all. I think that expectation in fact partly explains the vehemence of the opposition here—if you believe something isn’t good, and that if it starts it’ll keep on going indefinitely, then of course you will oppose its founding vigorously! But it’s not in Yale’s DNA to end something that has been generally successful—modifications and changes might be helpful or necessary, but shutting the thing down altogether simply isn’t what we do.

SP: When Yale-NUS was a mere idea, there was a lot of opposition to the idea of starting it in Singapore on the basis that liberal arts could not thrive here. What was your experience co-founding Yale-NUS like?

CB: The objections raised by the Yale faculty and others that a liberal arts approach could not thrive in Singapore proved not to be true. 

I believe we created a legitimate liberal arts environment for the faculty and students of Yale-NUS. There were a few issues on the margins, which have received considerable publicity, but the Yale-NUS faculty statement from 2012, copied below, was generally upheld. I find it frustrating that some of the early opponents of Yale-NUS are now gloating over its demise, given that the difficulties they foresaw at the outset were not realized, and were not the cause of the end of the institution.

“We are firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms—a central tenet of liberal arts education. There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution.”

SP: Nine batches and more than 10 years later, to what extent would you say the liberal arts are successful here? 

CB: The best people to answer that question are the students themselves. I believe we succeeded, but the proof of that success will come from the experiences and careers of the students. I think it is a shame that the College came to an end before the full career paths of the students could be known, as that is the metric by which the college should have been judged.

SP: To Yale Daily News, you had said that “I think this is a strategic mistake on their part,”—what exactly did you mean by this and could you expand on how you believe this decision may be detrimental to both Singapore and NUS?

CB: There has been an increasing tendency over the past years for Singapore to restrict access by international students to Singaporean higher education programs. While it is not for me to tell Singapore what to do, as an outside observer who has considerable respect for many aspects of Singaporean society, I think this is a long-term mistake. One sees xenophobic tendencies all over the world right now—in the UK in the form of Brexit, in the USA in the form of Trump’s restrictions on immigration. But both the US and the UK still welcome international students and scholars, recognizing the crucial enhancement such people represent to the overall society. 

I would say that it’s not just that the first-rate university systems in the US and UK attract international scholars and students—it’s also that the international scholars and students are a crucial part of what makes those systems first-rate. Singapore too has a first-rate higher education system. But they are undermining that system by not welcoming more international students and scholars into the country. 

And in the case of Singapore it goes further. As a tiny country with a small population, Singapore’s position in the world has always depended on its status as an entrepot, as a crossroads where many cultures mix. In the current world, this is potentially a source of great strength, sufficient to make Singapore a regional power in culture and education as it already is in shipping and commerce. There’s a particular opportunity right now, given the difficulties Hong Kong is currently experiencing. But that potential will not be realized unless the international talent that would like to be educated and conduct research in Singapore continues to be welcomed to do so.

Is Creating the College of Design and Engineering Worth the Effort?

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Photo of SDE (School of Design and Engineering)

A well-thought-out expansion of interdisciplinary education, or a corporate rebranding of the Faculty of Engineering?

Story | Ken Bradley (he/they), Guest Writer
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

I am an industrial designer in the School of Design and Environment (SDE), in my second year. I’m not opposed to the merger of the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) and SDE into the College of Design and Engineering (CDE)

Still, I am unsure of how merging FOE and SDE into CDE will work. The NUS Management hasn’t been entirely clear how it would implement the merger. How will the new interdisciplinary curriculum affect our workloads? How will the new modules affect our division’s goal of creating literate designers? Will the changes actually address our grievances with the current curriculum structure, or will it just create new problems down the line for our juniors?

Design and engineering are inextricably linked. For example, architects often work with civil engineers, product designers often have to work with electrical engineers, and project managers have to work with electrical and mechanical engineers. The merger makes sense in that it brings the two interrelated departments together and facilitates intellectual exchange in learning.

I applaud CDE and Aaron Thean, Dean of FOE, for appreciating the importance of diversity. Being in project teams with engineers, project managers, architects, and industrial designers can help build a culture of empathy and help build healthy workplaces of the future. According to Prof. Thean, the problems that we will encounter in the workplace will be more complex and will need a “convergence of different fields.” As the economy changes, workplaces will demand more of us, and our education should accordingly equip us to be able to cope with such challenges. 

At the moment, interdisciplinary and interdepartmental modules are rare. I believe EG2501 Liveable Cities is one of the only few modules wherein there is an emphasis on having diverse types of specialties within project groups and in the class itself. In this module, students are introduced to the process of governance, planning, development, and management of cities to achieve quality of life, a sustainable environment, and a competitive economy, using Singapore as an example, with a systems thinking perspective. By combining their respective expertise in different disciplines, students will be able to understand the role that professionals in urban systems, such as urban planners, architects, engineers, real estate consultants, and managers, play in creating livable cities. 

If we are to make interdisciplinary education a reality, these modules must become more commonplace and readily available. Will the new common curriculum modules facilitate interdisciplinary education? 

In the case of Industrial Design students, we already have this aspect of interdisciplinary learning: many of our modules are designed to require the students to explore marketing, business development, research, planning, manufacturing, etc. Our major is by nature interdisciplinary: If you ask any industrial designer what they do, we’ll come up with an all-encompassing answer. I am unsure of whether we need more interdisciplinary learning for ourselves.

The current modules that promote interdepartmental learning, to many of my peers, only pose obstacles to our design learning. For example, in the case of the General Education (GE) pillars offered by NUS across all faculties, the lessons learnt and the skills taught barely correlate to actual design work. In particular, in GER1000 Quantitative Reasoning, we learned how to sort data from scientific studies through various tools, such as Excel and R Commander. 

However, upon talking to my seniors and to my yearmates, many have said that the skills taught in this class barely apply to the quantitative and qualitative research in design. The GER1000 syllabus barely touched on the applicability of these skills to us as practitioners; we didn’t learn how to quantify survey data, nor have we ever used Excel or R Commander to analyze the primary research data we gather from people. Whenever we put out surveys or any form of design research, we barely apply the skills learnt from GER1000, but instead take cues from our instructors, from their actual practice. While this is only one GE module out of many offered by NUS, it shows that interdepartmental learning doesn’t organically happen when students attend classes of other disciplines.

A poorly-conceived common curriculum could potentially pose a distraction from our own progress as budding engineers, designers, architects, project managers, etc. We need to learn the skills required to do our jobs well, and these take time to learn and master. In the case of industrial designers, we need to dedicate a lot of time to learning a comprehensive design vocabulary. For example, graphic designers need to learn how to structure information, understand past references, understand client goals, work in teams, use software like Adobe Cloud to design, and understand multimedia design strategies, among many other components. These skills take a lot of practice to perfect. 

Having to fulfil the new common curriculum requirements could be detrimental to learning. The current solution to regulating workloads is the Modular Credit (MC) system. MCs are the factors determining a student’s workload, expressed in time. In practice, however, Industrial Design students often work for longer hours than what is determined by the MC system. For example, in our module ID1113 Modelling and Sketching for Design, for the equivalent of three hours of work per week according to the MC system, my classmates pulled all-nighters over two weeks. As designers, we have to invest hours upon hours into our projects to perfect aesthetics and mechanics. The MC system does not accurately reflect the amount of work we are expected to put into each project. This discrepancy between the assumed and actual workloads has not been addressed, and might be worsened with the addition of common curriculum modules.

The question here that needs to be asked is, “Do we have the bandwidth to undertake these new projects and modules in CDE?” It is true that the workplace will demand intense dedication from us. However, we also need to ask ourselves, both in school and in the workplace: “Is putting in this many hours of work sustainable for my health?” 

Many of my classmates are unfazed by this merger. Many Industrial Design students have neither the time nor the energy to ask how this merger affects us. I personally don’t believe this really changes anything, and that this might just be a rebranding exercise for the sake of NUS’s engineering students. NTU’s Engineering faculty ranked better than NUS’s in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. A glance at several online communities also shows a preference for NTU’s Engineering faculty over NUS’s. The first Quora result on a Google search comparing NUS’ and NTU’s Engineering faculties, for example, recommends NTU’s Mechanical Engineering course over that of NUS, due to the former providing better corporate partnership opportunities. 

NUS also has to compete with the up-and-coming SUTD which, much like Yale-NUS, has adopted a multidisciplinary structure for their STEM majors. SUTD integrates engineering, architecture, and design modules in a common curriculum. The engineering departments in NUS might want to leverage on the existing strengths of Industrial Design and Architecture to strengthen their standing among Singaporean universities. Design is becoming more integral to the market (which is why I chose this major) and NUS needs to ensure that their potential engineering students don’t fly off to other universities.

Industrial Design, as a division, will continue down its own path, churning out designers for Singapore and the world. We have a solid curriculum that produces qualified designers, and many of those designers come back to teach the next generation. Our division has a solid ecosystem. 

Meanwhile, our juniors may just attend the common curriculum classes for attendance’s sake, do the projects, and spend their Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory options (S/Us) strategically. We’ve done this before, and we’ll do it again. It seems that the merger may not affect us positively, since the common curriculum may distract us from the real learning within our matured department.

Many of us are focused on being good designers. That’s the mindset ingrained in us by the rigor of our courses, and what the market has been telling us we should be. We’ll survive this exercise. But the question is, for NUS, is it worth all this effort?

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

Living With Heartbreak

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Story | Anna Evtushenko (she/her), Guest Writer
Photo | Anna Evtushenko

If you can, listen to “Glassworks, Opening No. 2” as you read this. If you can, watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire tonight. Read Constellations, or something else that makes you feel dead and alive at once. If your lungs will allow it, breathe through your heartbreak.

I’ve told some people at Cornell and in Russia of my pain: my college has a time bomb stuck to it. They have no experience being in the first class of a Liberal Arts school in Singapore, so they didn’t understand me. But I’ve also talked to some members of the Class of 2017, and they don’t get me either. I also don’t get them. 

This heartbreak that’s shared among us, and other batches, and staff, and faculty, and friends⁠, this “collective effervescence”, is also very much my own. And probably your own too, dear reader⁠—whether you lost a college, or heard “I love you” from someone and never saw them again, or learned of a relative’s death over Skype. And I don’t understand you, but I also do.

It’s the loss of an imagined future. It’s goodbye to the present that ended too fast. It’s incredible, but easy to believe. It’s one of a kind. It happens all the time. It’s natural. But no, it doesn’t make sense. At least I don’t intend to make any sense of it anymore.

Yes, I wanted a future. I wanted a life where I come back to Singapore and meet people 20 years my junior, and tell them something about how we all lived in Residential Colleges 1, 2 and 3 which were just different floors of RC4; how “Saga,” “Elm,” and “Cendana” happened and sounded weird until they didn’t. How we complained about the dining hall, had birthday cakes, blew out and lit candles. How we didn’t know anything about anything and still went with it, which may have been the most important lesson of them all. 

I wanted to see that the things I’d helped create were still there and still bringing joy to someone. When I could, I wanted to donate enough for someone to get what I was given, different and their own but also so dear to me⁠—a Yale-NUS experience. Not just an education⁠—more like a life within a life. 

Upon graduation, feeling fully spent, I wanted this fantasy, this surreality of my college years to not vanish, to still be there⁠, beyond reach for me, but there for someone else. It is now; I can feel it from upstate New York. But soon enough, it won’t be.

It feels like time is going backwards now. As the first class, we were alone, and over the years became less and less alone as new batches rolled in. The college that started with no campus and four courses total gradually became more real. Now, it’s getting less and less real, and the Class of 2025 will forever be the youngest, not the first but the last. Full circle.

Or is it? I wanted a future that won’t happen, but the future will still come. Who am I to say it won’t be as colorful, as strange, as beautiful and as heartbreaking as what I imagined? How can I say that it will be worse, if at the very least it will actually come, envelop me, suddenly be the present

I’m not saying that it won’t be amazing in its reality. But I still want to grieve the unrealized, the unreal.

How does it feel to lose a college? Or to drive your daughter to the airport for the first or the fiftieth time? Or to say goodbye to someone you met on a day trip to Mendoza, Argentina? Tell me. Tell yourself.

In the movie Arrival and the novella Story of Your Life that inspired it, Louise Banks knows there is loss ahead, but lives on and actually experiences it all. 

If I knew how this would turn out, would I still want to do it? Would I send that message? Would I share my whole life with that person? Would I give my whole life⁠—a life within a life⁠—to this college?

Yes.

Anna Evtushenko is a member of the Class of 2017 and Cendana College. At Yale-NUS, she was involved in too many things to list. She is now a PhD candidate in Information Science at Cornell University.

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

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Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing spoke in parliament and answered questions from MPs. Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information

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.

Yale Did Not Offer $100 Million to Save Yale-NUS, Says Former Yale President

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The corridor outside of Yale-NUS library
Credit: Joshua Vargas

Story | Suman Padhi (she/her), Contributing Reporter and Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

Richard Levin, President Emeritus of Yale University and member of the Yale-NUS College Governing Board, denied the rumor that Yale offered $100 million to Yale-NUS during the discussions with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in July regarding Yale-NUS’s future.

After news of Yale-NUS’s closure was announced, a rumor began in early September among students, faculty, and parents that Yale had offered $100 million dollars from its own fundraising efforts to save Yale-NUS from closing. It is unclear whether the currency is in SGD or USD. According to the rumor, the money was rejected by NUS. 

Just yesterday, Prof. Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, wrote in an op-ed to The Straits Times that financial unsustainability was the main reason behind the merger, and that Yale-NUS is $220 million short of its fundraising target. 

This contradicts a report by Yale Daily News, the university’s student newspaper, where Pericles Lewis, Yale-NUS’s founding President, stated that the motivation is not financial.

In the same report, Dr. Levin acknowledged the financial deficit, but said that it could be “easily closed with more fundraising efforts.” 

Since the College’s establishment, Yale has not tapped into its existing donor pool to support Yale-NUS’s fundraising efforts, which are led primarily by the Yale-NUS leadership. The College began with a block grant from the Ministry of Education (MOE), and it planned to replace the block grant with capitation funding, or per capita funding, which means MOE would fund the College according to the number of students.

Prof. Joanne Roberts, Yale-NUS Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), shared with The Octant last August that the College only had a few hundred students in the beginning, and that was why per capita funding would not work because it still needed to hire enough staff and faculty in anticipation of more students joining in later years. 

However, she said the College planned to move to capitation funding this year once it had reached the steady state of 1000 students in total.

By 2030, it had hoped to be funded one-third by endowment, one-third by tuition, and one-third by the MOE block grant, The Octant previously reported. However, the College’s endowment was not growing as fast as it should, Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong said in a previous Town Hall on financial aid. 

In an email exchange with The Octant last Thursday, Levin expressed disappointment at the closure of Yale-NUS, and said he regarded his role in co-founding Yale-NUS while he was the Yale President as “among the most exhilarating and most meaningful experiences” of his professional career.

Levin was involved in the establishment of Yale-NUS from the very beginning. After being approached by then NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan in 2009 in an economic forum about a potential collaboration, he spearheaded the initial developments of the College. 

From October 2009 onwards, Yale’s role expanded from being a consultant to a partner, and Levin then had said Yale-NUS could “provide a way to influence all of Asia.”

Looking back at the College’s journey now, merely 11 years after Yale and NUS inked a memorandum of understanding, Levin reflected: “Yale-NUS has been an overwhelming success. On every visit, I have found the students and faculty extraordinarily engaging—full of energy and intellectual curiosity.” 

“The distinctive contribution of Yale-NUS, which has influenced numerous liberal arts initiatives in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, will be missed.”

Nonetheless, he was “confident” that the Yale-NUS Governing Board would try their best to “ensure the best possible experience for Yale-NUS students, faculty, and staff over these next four years.”

CORRECTION: The previous version of this article stated that Prof. Tan Eng Chye had said Yale-NUS had fallen short of its $300 million fundraising target set for 2030. His op-ed on The Straits Times did not state the timeline for the target explicitly. The Octant team is undergoing further fact-checking.

Why the New College Does Not “Broaden Access to an Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts Education”

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A photo of Yale-NUS' Cendana towers A and B.

Story | Yi Ming Ng & Rohan Naidu, Guest Writers
Photo | Joshua Vargas

“While the establishment of a New College may be seen as a sudden change, it is in fact a natural step towards ensuring broader access to inclusive interdisciplinary liberal arts education at NUS for the longer term.” 

Faced with grieving students, angry parents, puzzled donors, and a curious public, NUS and its affiliated stakeholders have consistently responded with this one-liner as the main justification for the “merger” of Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP), both complementary offerings of an interdisciplinary education in NUS’s ecosystem, to form “New College.” 

This rationale is worth scrutiny. What does “broaden[ing] access” mean? While NUS’s other recent moves, such as the formation of the College of Humanities and Sciences, are indeed applaudable developments which do “scale up” a liberal education by enabling a myriad of major pathways for thousands of students, it is less clear that the specific move to form New College is of a similar nature. 

Given that the enrolment of the proposed New College will be 500 students a year, equal to the sum of the existing class sizes of around 250 for each component college, this rules out “broaden[ing] access” to mean that the merger will expose more students to an interdisciplinary curriculum. The other possibility is that the merger will allow more of the hypothetical 500 students to receive a Yale-NUS style of liberal education. 

Yet, New College, as currently planned, bears little semblance to Yale-NUS. Yale-NUS is a full liberal arts college (LAC)—a stand-alone institution with its own in-house faculty, academics, majors, degree, research facilities, and identity. The New College slated to replace it is a supplementary residential program with a common curriculum for NUS students. These are two very different institutions. 

Following the top-down decision that rendered its reasoning and plans unclear, the latest responses from NUS make it clear that the “merger” is primarily about increasing both affordability and access to a Yale-NUS education to more Singaporeans.

We argue that this “merger,” amounting to the closure of Yale-NUS, will fall short of its goals as it misplaces concern on local affordability and proposes a structurally inadequate solution that loses the core elements of Yale-NUS. What are these differences between the proposed New College and Yale-NUS? And why does New College in its current form not “broaden access to an interdisciplinary liberal arts education,” which is, in then Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s words, the “purest form of multidisciplinary education”? We discuss five points arguing how the closure of Yale-NUS, an experiment proven highly successful, will decrease access to an interdisciplinary education and result in the loss of a unique model of education.

1. Unprecedented access to a university education for low-income students 

Yale-NUS is often portrayed as a privileged place for the elite, and so it may seem fair that it must be dissolved to make room for an “inclusive education.” This could not be further from the truth. With its need-blind admissions policy for Singaporeans, Yale-NUS offers the most generous financial aid packages for low-income students in Singapore. As lower-income students, the authors received 100% financial aid throughout college, including full residential stay and dining access. One of us is also the first in our family to attend university. In fact, we are far from outliers—half of our peers are able to attend Yale-NUS only through generous financial aid.

This, in fact, makes Yale-NUS more financially accessible than NUS, where students would have forked out a substantial portion of the tuition fees, and foregone residential living—an essential opportunity for low-income students to make connections and flourish in a new environment. 

Concerns about Yale-NUS’s affordability are thus unfounded. This life-changing access to Yale-NUS is enabled by the college’s small size, large per capita endowment, and capacity to attract donors through its unique reputation as Asia’s top liberal arts college. This unprecedented commitment to access is itself a primary factor behind concerns of the college’s long-term financial sustainability. Yet without Yale-NUS and  the resources to go abroad, deserving low-income students in Singapore will lose all access to a full liberal education.

2. The importance of small class sizes for all classes

At this point, the key question is: what is a “full liberal education”? The fundamental component is small class sizes, most crucially for classes in a student’s major and minor (a student’s main specializations). This will not be preserved at New College, where small class sizes only apply to the Common Curriculum, amounting to just 30% of undergraduate coursework. However, in Yale-NUS, students are able to clarify ideas and develop their doubts with their peers on the spot through tight-knight and two way discussion-intensive classes (typically smaller than 15 students). Every one of these classes is led by faculty (and a small handful of lecturers). The experience is crucial for developing skills and connections in major and minor classes. 

While Yale-NUS has its own in-house faculty teaching 14 majors, many uniquely interdisciplinary and without equivalents at NUS (such as Urban Studies and Arts and Humanities), students of the New College will complete their majors in their home NUS faculties. As NUS is a large research university, many seminars are facilitated by graduate student teaching assistants instead of professors. In contrast, all of Yale-NUS classes are small and faculty-led. Having taken classes in our major specializations at large universities like NUS, Harvard, and Yale, we have often been lost in dark auditoriums, going entire semesters unsure whether our professors even knew our names. In sharp contrast, Yale-NUS has built a community of learning in the tradition of small American liberal arts colleges. 

Small class sizes tangibly make Yale-NUS’s teaching pedagogy unique. For example, the increased time faculty can spend engaging with each student in class allows for more time to explain the theoretical underpinnings of concepts, beyond their practical applications. Tom White, Instructor in Humanities (Documentary, Photojournalism and Visual Communication) at Yale-NUS, also attests to Yale-NUS’s unique seminar style classes that draw on student input, such as individual interests, background, and capabilities, to shape the direction of the class, in contrast to one-way “knowledge transfer” teaching styles. Such a plurality of educational styles are needed in NUS. Yale-NUS offers the unique opportunity to immerse one’s major specialization at a more personal level, which will be lost with the impending integration of Yale-NUS’s faculty into the wider NUS community.

 3. Broader impact of low student-faculty ratio on life paths

More broadly, the effects of the low faculty to student ratio of about 1:8 at Yale-NUS College reach beyond the classroom. The low ratio cultivates strong ties and deep trust between faculty and students, which has made Yale-NUS a leader in undergraduate research

One of the authors, initially an intended literature major, became an astrophysicist thanks to an intimate, intensive six-person seminar on black holes (featuring a frame-by-frame dissection of Interstellar), followed by an apprenticeship at a telescope in the mountains of Chile. The other author wrote a political science senior thesis that is now under journal peer review, with the help of two- to three-hour consultation sessions with their faculty advisor. While writing our capstones (senior theses), Yale-NUS students enjoy a level of attention and supervision that is rare even for PhD students at the world’s leading universities. 

The faculty’s dedication to their students has pushed not just the authors, but many more students to achieve much more than they could have expected in their time as undergraduates. Mentored in a culture of deep personal investment, and trusted to take bold leaps of experimentation, Yale-NUS students routinely publish in the world’s most prestigious journals. The heartfelt recommendation letters our professors are able to write place us in the most selective graduate programs. Such substantive teaching, research, and advising opportunities have personally directed both of us to our current academic careers, previously unthinkable to us. 

Crucially, the benefits of such intensive research experiences at Yale-NUS benefit diverse graduates, including future tech entrepreneurs, software engineers, consultants, public servants, social enterprise founders, and ground-up changemakers. All these students benefit from the intensive skills training, concept ideation, experimentation, innovation, and deep engagement in issues inherent in academic research, to apply cutting-edge technological and social science insights to emerging opportunities and social issues. In the past week, many of our peers have publicly attested to the effect a Yale-NUS education has had on their life paths as well, especially as low-income students. Once again, this is fundamentally enabled by Yale-NUS’s full in-house faculty and institutional resources to support the low student-faculty ratio, both of which New College would not experience. 

It is for this secret sauce of the Yale-NUS experience—the invigorating environment, professors’ ability to dedicate lots of time and resources to student’s academic development, and the  opportunity to dive deep in our specializations in personal partnership with esteemed faculty—that many of our Singaporean peers chose Yale-NUS, and that our international peers chose Singapore, over the likes of Stanford, Harvard, and Cambridge. It is precisely this tight-knit atmosphere that the New College will lack without a full in-house faculty. New College students will spend most of their time scattered across NUS, in their home faculties, as they pursue their major modules. This is in stark contrast to the small, dense, and self-sufficient community of learning within the Yale-NUS campus, where students pursue their Common Curriculum and major within the same campus and with the same faculty. 

4. A uniquely international liberal education in the world

Another essential offering specific to Yale-NUS’s unique model of a liberal education is its exceptional access to international opportunities and cosmopolitan composition. 

Yale-NUS is a stepping stone for more Singaporeans to experience, learn, and bring back the best of a liberal arts education from its birthplace—the United States. The College has semester abroad partner agreements with eight top American LACs, including Amherst, Swarthmore, and Wellesley College, known for their intimate size and cutting-edge practices in interdisciplinary learning, teaching pedagogy, and student life. In contrast, only one of NUS’s exchange partners is a LAC, and for a much larger student body. One of the authors attended a semester abroad at Amherst, which directly inspired them to pioneer initiatives at student organizations helping underserved marginalized communities such as the Yale-NUS In-Betweeners Collective (first-generation/low-income student community) and Humanism.Yale-NUS (secular spirituality society). These student organizations were the first of their kind in Singapore.

Yale-NUS also has unique overseas research partner opportunities, most notably the Yale College Dean’s Research Fellowship, a Yale-NUS partner program with Yale University, which enables students to conduct original research in science under a Yale faculty mentor. The impact of this program on students’ future paths is evidenced by the success of many past Fellows attending top PhD programs today, most recently from the Class of 2021

Beyond research, Yale-NUS’s unique reputation has allowed it to attract prestigious international speakers across these years, including historian Stephen Greenblatt, novelist Pico Iyer, biologist Frans de Waal, President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, businessman Charles Goodyear, writer Amitav Ghosh, journalist Fareed Zakaria, and entrepreneur Kevin Ryan. Yale faculty also fly in to give annual week-long Special Seminars to Yale-NUS sophomores on a myriad of academic disciplines. 

While it has not been announced whether these agreements and programmes will carry over the New College, the very nature of Yale-NUS being an autonomous LAC, as well as formal affiliation with Yale University, is no doubt a crucial factor in this wealth of international opportunities, which will be lost.

Finally, Yale-NUS has a 40% international student body, and for good reason—a highly global student community is essential for a liberal education, not just in providing new perspectives, but also in helping to shape new cultures of learning and living.  This percentage is almost unmatched, not just in Singapore, but across the world. For instance, the proportion of international undergraduate students at Singapore’s publicly-funded universities, Yale University, and Williams College (a top American LAC), are all around 10%. On the other hand, New College’s ratio has been projected to be 25% immediately after the “merger,” while long-run admissions quotas are yet unknown, but likely to decrease. Yale-NUS is thus a one-of-a-kind cosmopolitan undergraduate village in the world, more relevant than ever with the increasingly global nature of today’s most pressing issues requiring unprecedented international understanding and cooperation, and in line with Singapore’s priorities to stay “open and connected to the world.” The present plans for New College, while increasing the local cohort size, will also lose this trait of a Yale-NUS education.

5. Community buy-in and co-creation of collegiate ecosystem

A less visible but no less important component of a LAC is the community’s commitment to its underlying ideals, which grounds an ecosystem of vibrant co-creation. This starts with explicit community buy-in of the sometimes uncomfortable ideals of a liberal education, including valuing both disciplinary and multidisciplinary learning for their own sake. This is attained through the self-selection of like-minded students and faculty during admissions and hiring, such as students who are personally interested and committed to explore academic disciplines beyond their majors, who are only a subset of the student body. To be clear, we are not making a value judgment here, but only pointing out personal preferences—specializing deep into one’s major is terrific too! On the faculty end, Yale-NUS has attracted senior endowed faculty from around the world to build “one of the most exciting learning communities ever.” 

An example of how these philosophies fundamentally shape the Yale-NUS academic curricula is epitomized by the following quote from Andrew Bailey, Associate Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) at Yale-NUS:

“We brought in a consultant in year zero. He asked us to all write down “What do you want your students to be able to do by the time they’re done with the common curriculum?”. And he was going to structure his seminar around answers, presupposing that this was the most important question to answer when designing a curriculum. We rejected the question, thank the gods. The more fundamental question, we felt, was what our students would want to do, and who they would be, by the time they graduated. The question he wanted to ask concerns skill. Ours were about what those skills would be directed towards. Totally different paradigms.”

Yale-NUS is also highly consultative and reiterative, evidenced through the recently concluded Common Curriculum review, and student co-organization of a week-long academic immersion programs in Singapore. Beyond the classroom, progressive student organization and diversity policies also grant the resources, freedom, and ease for rapid student-led creation of path-finding student organizations and community events, such as discussed previously here. With the nature of New College as a supplementary “honors college” for NUS students, as well as the likely closer integration with NUS student policies, these important elements are unguaranteed. 

Patching the gaps in the “scaling up” dream

These points illustrate that New College is not going to be the “scaled up” liberal arts college it is touted to be. NUS’s current plans for the New College, by doing away with Yale-NUS’s structure as a stand-alone LAC, substantially dilutes the essential traits of a Yale-NUS education that we have discussed: a necessarily large per capita endowment, small class sizes for all classes, low student-faculty ratio, professional development opportunities, and fundamental collegiate philosophies. This will be the loss of Asia’s top liberal arts college, and will decrease access to an interdisciplinary liberal education in Singapore. 

In light of this, NUS should reconsider its decision, with or without Yale, before it impacts younger Singaporeans (especially low-income students), Singapore’s economic and civic landscape, and the country’s reputation at the cutting edge of higher education in the world. We ultimately care for the continuation of the promise of a Yale-NUS education to high school students—having once been bright-eyed high school students ourselves enthralled listening to the Yale-NUS admissions officer’s pitch—and not so much about external affiliations. 

Please consider preserving Yale-NUS as an autonomous liberal arts college and expanding its cohort in the future, after the college builds its resources further, to truly “broaden access to an interdisciplinary liberal education” at NUS. This will be for the best, even if under a new name like “New College.”

Ng Yi Ming graduated in 2021 with a major in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and spent a semester abroad at Amherst College. He is a Master’s student in Urban Science, Policy and Planning at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Rohan Naidu graduated in 2017 with a major in Physical Sciences after formative experiences as an exchange student at Yale University and the University of Chile. He is a PhD candidate in Astrophysics at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

The Octant Explains: How Expensive is Yale-NUS, Really?

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Story | Yip Jia Qi (he/him), Former Staff Editor
Tables | Lily Chen, Xie Yihui

With the closure of Yale-NUS, a common point made is that Yale-NUS was too expensive. Indeed, our school fees are the most expensive in Singapore, if you ignore NUS Medicine and Dentistry. We compare the school fees for AY 2021/2022 for Yale-NUS to other programs in Singapore, to obtain a sense of scale.

Source: NTU, SUTD, SMU, NUS, Yale-NUS
*TGS refers to the Tuition Grant Scheme, a Singapore government-sponsored subsidy to offset the cost of tertiary education. International students or Singapore Permanent Residents awarded with TGS are required to work for a Singapore entity for three years upon graduation. 

Unsurprisingly, a quick glance at the numbers shows that, as many people have rightly pointed out, Yale-NUS College does indeed have the most expensive school fees among the programs listed here. Interestingly, NTU’s Renaissance Engineering Programme, which is NTU’s own take on a residential program with elements of a liberal arts education, is quite expensive as well. 

While expensive, both Yale-NUS and NTU REP provide a range of financial support options to offset costs for the needy. At Yale-NUS, the school is committed to “meet the full demonstrated need” of all admitted students. By the numbers, the proportion of all students receiving need-based financial support for each class is around 50%, and has remained consistent from the Class of 2021 to 2024 with a fluctuation of no more than 4%. Before this year’s application cycle, Yale-NUS admission was also need-blind for all students, meaning that it did not consider an applicant’s financial situation when deciding who to admit. Yale-NUS remains need-blind for local students. 

To be fair, NTU also offers an REP scholarship to “outstanding freshmen pursuing full-time REP in NTU” which will cover most of the high fees. It is also interesting to see that SUTD, which is also a small school with a residential program that one might consider to be Yale-NUS’s distant sibling, has relatively affordable tuition even if it is still on the high side.

However, Yale-NUS is Singapore’s only independent small liberal arts college (SLAC), and it might benefit from comparison with other small liberal arts colleges. Here, we compare the top five SLACs and their tuition, room, and board costs as per data from the US News ranking website.

Source:  Yale-NUS Accommodation and Meals, US News College Rankings, NTU Accommodation, NUS Accommodation and Meals, SUTD Accommodation

As expected, there is a gulf between an SLAC in the US and almost any school in Singapore, including Yale-NUS if you look at the school fees for local students. The cheapest of the top five US SLACs, Williams College, costs over three times more than Yale-NUS, even before room and board. For international students not on the TGS, Yale-NUS school fees are actually in the ballpark of the US SLACs, as are SUTD fees. NUS CHS + USP remains a very cheap option even for international students.

As any good salesperson will tell you, whether something is expensive or not is a matter of perspective. If all you want to purchase is an education in Singapore, then Yale-NUS is undoubtedly expensive. However, if what you want is a liberal arts education, then Yale-NUS is a really cheap option for Singaporeans. This also has the additional advantage of slowing down the brain drain of Singaporeans who cannot find the education they want in Singapore. The closure of Yale-NUS will no doubt reduce the diversity of education options available to the average Singaporean since not everyone can afford to go overseas. 

An Open Letter to the Donors of Yale-NUS College

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Picture of UTown with Yale-NUS in the background

Story | A Group of Students and Alumni of Yale-NUS College 
Photo | Martin Choo (he/him)

Today, a group of students and alumni from Yale-NUS reached out to The Octant with an open letter to the college’s donors. The full letter can be read below:

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Summary

We call on our donors:

  1. To approach NUS leadership and ask that they reconsider their unilateral decision to merge Yale-NUS College and USP (the de facto closure of Yale-NUS College, given the details shared by NUS leadership to date);
  2. If this decision is final, to be more transparent about the decision-making process behind this ‘merger’ and provide the ‘New College’ with the same autonomy, protections and liberal arts curriculum that Yale-NUS enjoys; and
  3. In the absence of greater transparency, to consider giving their support to an organisation that is more committed to engaging with its donors, students, faculty, alumni, and staff on a long-term basis. 

For the following three fundamental reasons:

  1. That, upon the closure of Yale-NUS College and the establishment of the New College, your gift will no longer be going towards the vision, objectives, and principles that many of you were promised through Yale-NUS;
  1. That you, the donors, deserve transparency and accountability in how your gift to Yale-NUS is used; and
  1. That the unilateral decision to close Yale-NUS College will diminish public trust in and the international reputation of Singaporean higher education institutions, calling into question the strength and reliability of their partnerships and commitments.

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To the donors who make Yale-NUS possible, 

On the morning of August 27, it was announced that, effective 2025, Yale-NUS College (YNC), in conjunction with the University Scholars Programme (USP), will be subsumed by a ‘New College’. Despite the use of the term ‘merger’, this move effectively constitutes YNC’s closure, based on the information that is currently available to us. We write to you to express our profound disappointment at this unilateral decision taken by the NUS leadership. We believe that you, the donors and supporters who made this college possible, should be aware of the circumstances behind this closure and what they mean for your investment in us. 

Essentially, we believe that this decision to ‘merge’ these two institutions is simply a front for what is an impending closure of Yale-NUS College. We believe that the resultant shift in the New College’s vision will be a significant departure from the promises that were made to you when you decided to support Yale-NUS as an institution. As such, we urge you to reconsider your ongoing support to the NUS administration, and push for greater accountability.

By any measurable metric, Yale-NUS College has been successful; our faculty are highly renowned, and our graduates have been extremely successful in a diverse set of career paths. Yale-NUS’s inaugural class alone has produced several alumni who are now enrolled in top PhD programmes globally, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Schwarzman Scholar. Others are now pursuing successful careers and making significant contributions in entrepreneurship, at blue chip companies, in the public sector, and at non-profit organisations in Singapore and around the world.

When Yale-NUS was established, we understand that many of you chose to invest your wealth in us because you believed in an educational vision embodied both in our classrooms and in our residential curriculum—a vision that centres its ethos around an interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences education. Yale-NUS has always been presented to key stakeholders as an autonomous institution, one where students and faculty can engage with each other without fear of strong-armed top-down direction. This has fostered a close-knit community and a thriving marketplace of ideas. The Yale-NUS vision promised the active involvement of all students and faculty in both its curriculum and in residential life. This is the model of liberal arts that we understand many of you chose to believe in. With the onset of this ‘merger’, this vision will cease to exist in 2025. 

The New College is expected to begin taking in students in the next admissions cycle. Given the abruptness of the decision-making process, we lack confidence that NUS will be able to reproduce a successful interdisciplinary system within the short runway of a year. The success of Yale-NUS has required years of planning and dedication from many students, staff, other educational institutions (Yale), and the Singaporean government. We fear that the New College will not be able to guarantee the interdisciplinary educational experience ‘adapted from the best of both the USP and Yale-NUS foundations’ that NUS senior leadership promises. Furthermore, we believe that the manner in which both Yale-NUS and USP have been shut down is likely to have devastating consequences for existing students, faculty, and the education landscape in Singapore as a whole: 

  1. The top-down decision-making process reflects a continuation of a worrying practice by NUS leadership, with minimal regard for the impacts on and accountability to the stakeholders it is responsible for. 

Donors, faculty, students, staff, and key members of the NUS and Yale-NUS governing boards were not consulted in the decision-making process to close down YNC. To President Tan Tai Yong, the news of Yale-NUS’s closure came as a fait accompli. He revealed that he had not contributed any input in the process. This is a continuation of worrying practices by NUS leadership, in which they choose to impose top-down decisions on their primary stakeholders. The decision to close Yale-NUS College was made without regard for far-stretching implications on the careers and financial futures of students, faculty, staff, and alumni alike.

For students, incoming first-year students had already committed to Yale-NUS, matriculated, and completed their orientation programme before this ‘merger’ was announced. In addition, the announcement was made a day or two after student bills were due. By paying large sums in tuition to Yale-NUS and signing their Tuition Grant Scheme agreements, students, especially the newest cohort of 2025, were effectively trapped in a college that will shrink year by year, until it finally vanishes.

For faculty, this creates instability. For example, new faculty members were hired on tenure-track positions prior to the announcement of this decision and now face uncertainty in their professional futures. Many of these new faculty members have yet to set foot on campus but already have to grapple with the idea that their place of employment may no longer exist in a few years. For many—especially those in interdisciplinary majors—there is significant worry that their fields of expertise will not find the necessary logistical and meaningful academic support within the current framework of NUS faculties. Additionally, tenure standards vary significantly between large research-oriented universities like NUS and small liberal arts colleges like Yale-NUS. Hence, it is possible that a large number of the current Yale-NUS faculty will not be granted tenure at NUS, exacerbating the professional uncertainty they face. 

  1. The proposed New College will be fundamentally different from Yale-NUS College. It will not be a liberal arts and science college but an ‘honors college’, and therefore will not provide the same type of education that Yale-NUS provides.

Based on publicly available information and what was revealed at a town hall session held with alumni, it is clear that the New College will change fundamental aspects of the Yale-NUS model of education: 

  • Students will lose access to small discussion-based and professor-led seminars for courses in their major and minor. This is because New College is not a stand-alone liberal arts and sciences college with in-house faculty, but an ‘honors college’ which only offers a common curriculum and residential programmes. Future New College students will take their major/minor courses at home faculties in NUS such as the College of Humanities and Sciences, with less opportunity to cultivate personal student-professor ties and inclusive seminar discussions. Student-faculty ratios will also significantly increase, affecting other key aspects of learning such as academic advising and undergraduate research opportunities, key for graduate school-inclined students.
  • It removes our fully residential system. The ‘New College’ will not be a four-year residential college, which means a significant number of students will not be able to access the thriving residential curriculum that Yale-NUS currently boasts, for the full period of study. 
  • Class sizes for the common curriculum will increase in the ‘New College’. The change in student-teacher ratio will prevent students from learning in the kind of accessible, intimate setting that small class sizes foster. 
  • The ‘New College’ will not have the same diversity of students that YNC has. The international to local student ratio will drop drastically from the current 40:60. This limits interactions between a base of talented Singaporeans and a community of diverse minds. 
  • Singapore will lose a community of entrepreneurial faculty who were hired with emphasis on their pedagogy, focus on interdisciplinary learning, and desire to contribute to building a world-class liberal arts and sciences common curriculum in Singapore. 
  1. Many donors support a spirit of academic freedom that is essential to the liberal arts and sciences model. This has not been promised for the New College and is highly unlikely to be realised.

At YNC, this commitment is enshrined in our policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination, as well as our institutional autonomy, which ensure a vibrant, curious, and rigorous culture of learning on campus. However, it is not clear whether these policies will continue in the New College. NUS administration has explained that the new institution will be subsumed under full NUS governance, and will possess the same rules and structures as other current residential colleges. Moreover, at the YNC town hall, the NUS leadership only assured us that the autonomy and model of education our institution benefits from will be maintained for the remaining duration of its existence, but made no assurances that this autonomy will be carried over into the New College. 

  1. The closure of Yale-NUS will reflect poorly on Singaporean institutions of higher education and will be to the detriment of Singaporean society through ‘brain drain’. 

The unilateral, top-down closure of Yale-NUS College does not bode well for the future of liberal arts and sciences education in Singapore and in Asia, nor for the diversity of curricula that exist in the Singaporean higher education landscape. We fear that the sudden move to close Yale-NUS College indicates that Singaporean institutions of higher learning are at best careless and at worst hostile towards the principles and livelihoods of the international academic community. 

Moreover, the closing of Yale-NUS College heavily damages access to a true liberal arts and science education in Singapore, especially for students from lower-income backgrounds. As stated earlier, given that the New College will likely not be a true liberal arts experience, local students who wish to pursue this type of education will have to look overseas, at much higher costs, thus reducing accessibility to education.  Similarly, the poor treatment of faculty, whose tenure progressions and jobs are now at the mercy of a new institution, disincentivises renowned international scholars and professors from coming to teach in Singaporean institutions. This contributes to a ‘brain drain’ where both talented Singaporeans and internationals no longer view Singapore as an attractive destination in which to study or teach. This loss of talent is of great detriment to Singapore as a whole.

The generous donations you provide to Yale-NUS have been absolutely crucial to our learning and the college’s development. Your generosity has helped us build a conscientious, civilly engaged community of global citizens. You have been integral stakeholders to this community and yet, you were not consulted by NUS leadership in this decision. We believe you deserve transparency and accountability in how your gift is used. 

In light of this, we request that you approach NUS leadership and ask that they reconsider this closure to preserve the future of liberal arts and science education in Singapore and, more broadly, Asia. Even if the decision itself cannot be changed, we hope that this letter and your support compels the NUS administration to, firstly, be more transparent about the decision-making process that went into their plans to shut down our institution and, secondly, provide any ‘New College’ the same protections, autonomy and liberal arts curriculum that Yale-NUS is able to enjoy. In the absence of such changes, we humbly ask you to consider supporting other organisations that are more committed to their own core values of respect for stakeholders, integrity to uphold the highest ethical standards, as an institution founded for the community by the community.

In community, 

A Group of Yale-NUS Students and Alumni of Yale-NUS College

For further information on the harmful implications of this decision on higher education in Yale-NUS and beyond, please read the attached petition. This petition has been formulated by students across six faculties in NUS, and enjoys widespread support. We hope we can count you among those who share its sentiments. 

Link to the petition: https://www.change.org/NOMORETOPDOWN 

———-

The views and stances expressed in the open letter are the authors’ own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com.

How NUS Broke Our Trust

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A view of NUS Utown at evening hours.
We gathered here from around the world trusting NUS to honor its promise, only for it to be recklessly broken. Credit: Joshua Vargas

Story | Avery (she/her), Guest Writer 
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

What is Yale-NUS College?

It is so many things—a school, a community, a safe place—but above all, it is a promise. It is a promise to faculty to reshape what higher education in Singapore could look like, and it is a promise to students that they could freely realize their dreams. We gathered here from around the world trusting NUS to honor this promise, only for it to be recklessly broken barely three weeks into its fulfillment. The trust between the Yale-NUS community and its administrators is irrevocably broken as a result.

The initial incorporation of Yale-NUS within NUS entrusts the university to support the college and to make decisions in its best interest. The dissolution is, by its very definition, an existential question for the college. But as new information gradually emerges, it becomes increasingly clear that the NUS bureaucracy has failed to exercise a semblance of careful consideration as it proceeded with the merger within a few short months. As others have pointed out in startling detail, fundamental differences exist aplenty between just about every aspect of the Yale-NUS and USP machinery that must be reconciled within one short year. 

Yet, if any feasibility studies or preliminary investigations have been done, we haven’t heard of them. The merits of a “strategic initiative” on this scale deserve careful deliberation involving as many perspectives as possible, yet—ironically for an initiative to establish a “liberal arts college”—investigations reveal that even senior administrators were uninvolved in the decision making. Most of all, the decision to obliterate an entire community was made without even a nod to the existential stakes we hold in this issue, or a warning to help us prepare for what was to come. The suspicion only grows that the administration rushed into this destruction in an astonishingly rash fever dream, without stopping for a second to remember its responsibilities or question its own wisdom.

The repercussions of this irresponsibility are a total upheaval of faculty’s and student’s academic and personal futures that NUS once promised us. Faculty could at least expect their hard work building the school to be respected, but instead found their brainchild sent to the slaughter overnight, their ambition destroyed and employment uncertain. Some had spent their past year reviewing the Common Curriculum and making extensive modifications—only to be notified on the eve of its completion that their work wouldn’t be needed anymore. NUS has claimed that no one will be made redundant, but even if faculty are able to secure an equivalent position in the wider NUS, things are not the same. The new-movers will find themselves bluntly transplanted into a large research university where the job scope and performance assessments are drastically different from the teaching-focused liberal arts college they signed up for. 

Students, meanwhile, are given a caricature of an assurance, a constant refrain that Yale-NUS would remain “business as usual” until 2025. I haven’t seen anyone fully buying into that claim, perhaps because of its obvious implausibility. The fact of the matter is that things change when you know the school will disappear in four years, as faculty leave for greener pastures and student societies wither without new blood and the dynamism of junior students ceases to exist, and the creeping despair that any attachment to this place that you allow yourself will only mean worse pain when it finally disappears. 

The NUS administration has failed in its responsibility to Yale-NUS as an institution and to individuals within, yet only offers unsubstantiated assurances amid the universal sense of betrayal. How will the school uphold diversity? They “hope.” Will faculty be persuaded to remain, and in sufficient numbers? They have “a sensing.” Will the New College commit to critical discourse in the same spirit as Yale-NUS and USP? Maybe. 

But you know, even that could be okay. Details take time to emerge for a plan as disruptive as this, but all might still be fine if those at the helm are trustworthy and responsible and are known to have the students’ best interests at heart. But the people put in charge are the same people who on live broadcast broke our trust that a decision about our future would be carefully made, that we would have a say in what would profoundly affect our lives, and most of all, the ultimate promise that the school we so loved would continue to exist. Faced against this, all guarantees are useless—flimsy bandaids slapped on an exsanguinating wound. 

This begs the question: If they can do this now, what else can they do in the future? Another merger of the College of Humanities and Sciences, this time with the Business School so “everyone can gain an entrepreneurial spirit”? Devise a common curriculum for the Faculty of Law focusing extensively on computing for an industry set to rely on artificial intelligence? If NUS encounters financial trouble, will it sell off UTown itself to be redeveloped as a condominium complex “rich in educational heritage”? None of these are imaginable. But that was precisely what the dissolution of Yale-NUS used to be—a joke worthy of The Mocktant until it suddenly came true. The capricious, erratic decision-making—that has been proven endemic, no less—will plague future students, faculty, and collaboration partners with all sorts of such questions, dangerously damaging the credibility of a university trying to become the best in Asia.

So where does this leave us? I don’t know what we should do, faced with a behemoth institution with extensive power it can no longer be trusted to wield. But I know what we can do: speak out, question, and hold the administration to account even as it refuses to be. It may well change nothing, but it for sure won’t if we don’t try.

The Yale-NUS Story is a Singaporean Story

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Story | Ryan Ma (he/him), Guest Writer
Photo | Tan Shan Min (she/her), Managing Design Editor

A young country, located at the crossroads of East and West, had to build its own community and forge ties with the world amid widespread skepticism about its chances of survival. Every Singaporean knows this story dearly, as it is the story of Singapore as an independent nation. 

In the 21st century, this familiar story is being retold again, this time in the incarnation of a young college—Yale-NUS—founded by two great universities, in Asia for the world. Indeed, the story of Yale-NUS is a quintessentially Singaporean story, and its development thus far has embodied many qualities that Singaporeans cherish. To borrow the words of a famous National Day song, “There was a time when people said that Yale-NUS won’t make it, but we did.”

Contrary to popular belief, the early classes of Yale-NUS students were not handed a fully functioning college on a silver platter. In fact, they did not even have their own campus. When the college enrolled its first class in 2013, those students had to live, study, and build the college’s fledgling community in the building now known as RC4, until the Yale-NUS campus was finally completed and inaugurated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2015. 

In addition, the Yale-NUS community has had to constantly justify its existence on two fronts. On one hand, it faced a faction of Yale faculty members that repeatedly lambasted the partnership with a country supposedly authoritarian and hostile towards academic exploration. On the other hand, it grappled with Singaporean society that till today scorns the involvement of a foreign university in local higher education and confounds the word “liberal” in liberal arts with popular conceptions of Western political liberalism. 

Challenges such as these are no doubt faced by any new institution trying to establish itself in the world. As such, Yale-NUS’s continued success in the face of these obstacles should not be taken for granted. One might recall that the college was conceived amid Singapore’s push to become a global education hub, which saw a wave of joint higher education partnerships with top foreign universities. However, most of those partnerships met quick and acrimonious ends. Among these were the ill-fated New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia and the University of New South Wales Asia. Just as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew once remarked that “island nations are a political joke,” it seemed like joint university ventures were a joke in the higher education scene. Today, no one would consider Singapore’s independence a joke. For the same reason, no one should consider the prospect of Yale-NUS’s continued existence a joke either.

I will not belabor the reader with a lengthy account of Yale-NUS’s successes and achievements, because better writers than me have discussed them in detail. It suffices to say that Yale-NUS has pioneered a unique and acclaimed Common Curriculum from scratch, that Yale-NUS graduates have been consistently attractive to employers even during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Yale-NUS has forged a unified and coherent identity despite having a student body hailing from dozens of countries around the world. 

It is not the magnitude of Yale-NUS’s success that invites amazement; after all, the inaugural class only graduated in 2017 and is unlikely to start winning Nobel Prizes any time soon. Rather, it is the fact that Yale-NUS has achieved this success within such a short timespan while remaining relatively independent of both of its parent universities. In other words, Singapore has witnessed its “third-world-to-first” journey embodied in the growth of a scrappy liberal arts college.

There is no reason why Yale-NUS’s success cannot be replicated in NUS without Yale’s prestigious halo. In fact, if NUS were to devote its resources to starting its own liberal arts college, I believe that it would succeed. 

However, I submit that NUS is misguided in believing that it could dissolve Yale-NUS into an undefined entity while still preserving the best of Yale-NUS’s features. The New College may attract excellent students and it may maintain substantial parts of Yale-NUS’s curriculum and structures. However, the community and culture that enabled those accomplishments would be broken. The New College’s community might inherit Yale-NUS’s tangible accomplishments and they might build something excellent based on these accomplishments, just as settlers have built excellent things based on the legacies of indigenous peoples. But the intangible culture, norms, and practices that Yale-NUS has cultivated over the past decade would be lost to them. 

It is for this same reason that we as Singaporeans insist on defending our national sovereignty—because there are intangible aspects of our culture, aspirations, and way of life which go beyond the corpus of texts and built objects, and which would be lost if our nation is dissolved into another entity. We maintain our gates not to exclude others but to demarcate our perspectives from those of others. It is these differences in perspective that make intellectual discourse at NUS so much richer.

To conclude, I have attempted to push back against a common criticism leveled at Yale-NUS: that it is a vanity project under the auspices of a foreign university, and that it imports values and norms that are alien to what is considered “Singaporean” or “Asian.” One prominent local scholar even compared the partnership to a “civilizing mission” like that conducted by former colonial powers. I disagree with this view. At its core, the spirit of Yale-NUS is characterized by resilience, resourcefulness, multiculturalism, and unity in the face of adversity. These are also the key elements of our national identity as Singaporeans. Yale-NUS values are Singaporean values. Yale-NUS is unique in the same way that Singapore is, has been, and could be, unique.

With that, I am once again asking you for support to save our school from closure: https://www.change.org/NOMORETOPDOWN.

Architects of Failure: the “New College’s” Poorly Constructed Student Experience

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A view of Yale-NUS
Credit: Joshua Vargas

Story | Dave Chappell (he/him), Former Editor-in-Chief
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

If I could choose one Octant article to show to the individuals behind the decision to merge Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) it would be David Chia’s piece on Yale-NUS’s architecture. While there are many things wrong with the merger besides the incompatible buildings, the piece demonstrates why the “New College” experience will be constructed so poorly. The architects of the merger would do well to heed its warnings.

As the piece points out, Yale-NUS’s campus was not designed in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction with and supporting the college’s vision (something I’m sure was true for USP’s Cinnamon College too). To create a college that was more than the sum of its parts, it was important that all the components supported one another, including the curriculum, culture, extra-curricular opportunities, architecture, and more. This created a distinct and rewarding college experience. It is not something that can be easily deconstructed and reassembled — you cannot remove or rearrange load-bearing walls without compromising a building’s structural integrity.

Yale-NUS’s campus is filled with examples of how it was constructed around a specific vision of being an autonomous college, divided into sub-communities of learning that bring together its founding universities and cultural traditions from across the world to create a distinct identity. While I want to believe in post-merger possibilities, I fear the two colleges’ strengths are so distinct and embedded that a merger is incompatible. Although I am focusing on the campus architecture, this is a microcosm of the unsound construction of “New College,” which also applies to the other components mentioned above. 

An Autonomous College

Yale-NUS was envisioned as an autonomous college and the architecture reinforced this. As detailed in Chia’s piece, the openings to UTown are deliberately limited and the grid architecture is a distinct contrast to UTown’s curves. Yale-NUS’s campus is also separated by gates, and the covered walkways that allow an individual to circumnavigate UTown without getting caught in the rain do not extend to it. All of this points to a “New College” where half the student population is architecturally separated from the other. The architecturally induced division between students is, needless to say, at odds with collaborative learning. 

The physical spaces were also designed around Yale-NUS’s small student population and therefore will not support the “New College’s” larger size. The library is already at capacity and, as pointed out by Shaharaj Ahmed, most Yale-NUS classrooms cannot support the class sizes envisioned by the “New College.” 

Sub-Communities of Learning

Yale-NUS was intended to be a fully residential experience to foster round-the-clock learning and encourage more international students to apply. This was embodied in the architecture, which created communities nested within each other (suites within sky gardens, sky gardens within residential colleges, residential colleges within Yale-NUS, and Yale-NUS within NUS). That Yale-NUS was always intended to be divided into the three residential colleges is borne out by the triplication of courtyards, butteries, and dining halls, but also by subtler things—like the different grains of wood or choices of flora.

These cannot be replicated by the “New College.” Even if they were to keep a sub-residential college structure, this would create large asymmetries—USP’s buildings have two towers joined by a single dining hall for a capacity of 600, while Yale-NUS’s buildings divide a capacity of 1000 between five towers (of varying sizes) and three dining halls. There is also less need for sub-identities since the “New College” will only have a two-year residential component.

What seems likely is that the architects of the “New College” will try to erase the sub-communities—losing yet another of Yale-NUS’s best features—in favor of an overarching “New College” identity. Still, as noted earlier, the Yale-NUS architecture encourages the formation of sub-residential identities. Add in another college separated from the Yale-NUS campus by a sizable distance and with large architectural differences, and one will have established a fractured college community antithetical to social cohesion and round-the-clock learning. 

Creating A Distinct Identity

Students at Yale-NUS and USP will be able to tell you the challenges of creating an identity from scratch. Fortunately for those at Yale-NUS, the work was already partly done, as the college’s founders infused the identities of its founding philosophy and parent institutions into its iconography and architecture, from which students could construct something unique. These include the fusing of architectural motifs from East and West and nods to its parent institutions. 

Features such as the gates, the Sol LeWitt painting, and the Deinonychus fossil in the library, which link Yale-NUS’s campus to its New Haven heritage, will remain long after these connections are severed. Stripped of the Yale-NUS identity, these markers will not only cease to contribute to college identity, they will detract from it, by acting as reminders that a college’s soul was once forcibly removed from its architectural body. 

“New College” will need a new identity and this will probably involve bastardizing the identifying markers of its two constituents. But how can a unifying soul emerge from such a soulless endeavor?

Conclusion

I always used to joke that Yale-NUS’s former slogan of “2+2=5” unintentionally implied that liberal arts graduates were bad at math, but it made a compelling point: Yale-NUS was more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t something that happened by accident. As demonstrated by the campus architecture, it was the result of the founders and subsequent students, faculty, and staff building mutually reinforcing links that created a unique and irreplaceable college experience. The architects of the “New College” show no understanding of this and the writing is on the walls. Unfortunately, this kind of top-down decision making will not unify the strongest features of Yale-NUS and USP. It will be a poorly constructed, disjointed mass of rubble—less than the sum of its parts.

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