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Yale-NUS College alumni sign statement questioning move to close college

SINGAPORE – Five hundred and eight – about 60 per cent – of Yale-NUS College’s alumni have signed a statement questioning the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) decision to close the college.

About 190 signed anonymously, while the rest wrote their names on the document, which was released to the media on Sunday (Sept 26) afternoon.

The statement contends that the merger between the college, which took its first batch of students in 2013, and NUS’ University Scholars’ Programme (USP) – announced on Aug 27 – will end two “great and unique programmes” .

Yale-NUS will close in 2025, ending Yale University’s tie-up with NUS, and its 2021 intake of 240 students will be the last batch.

The statement also says that the new college – the result of the merger – will not increase access to interdisciplinary learning or a liberal arts education – which has been raised as a reason for the decision by leadership from both NUS and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

This comes four days after a group of faculty from the college released an open letter disagreeing with the de-facto closure of the college, saying that the reputational damage it has caused will affect all universities in Singapore.

The letter was not signed but a senior faculty member told The Straits Times that at least 12 people penned it.

The alumni statement also raises concerns that the merger will reduce diversity and accessibility in the country’s education landscape.

It reads: “Without a liberal arts college in Singapore, access to a liberal arts education will be challenging, in particular, for lower-income Singaporean students.

“Comparable institutions overseas will cost the Singaporean student four times as much. Additionally, those who go overseas may not return, thereby exacerbating the brain drain in Singapore.”

Tuition at Yale-NUS costs $90,800 per year for each student. Singaporean students pay $20,500 a year for tuition on their own, while the Government subsidises the remaining $70,300 a year, MOE told ST last week.

The statement goes on to say that there are many questions on the closure which have remained unanswered, and that the alumni will continue to press for answers publicly and privately.

It reads: “It remains unclear why NUS senior management did not simply continue Yale-NUS without the Yale name, and adjust the institution as necessary.”

It questions the road map for the new college, stating that the institution currently has no website, curriculum and admissions or financial aid policy despite being scheduled to open next year.

The statement also thanks the current and former faculty and staff for their work in building Yale-NUS, adding that the alumni will continue to support current students.

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Alumni who signed the statement told ST that they have been watching the situation unfold with growing uncertainty.

Private sector analyst Peter Ooi, 28, who graduated in 2018, said the benefits of Yale-NUS might be hard to quantify. But he added that Singapore should not abandon a project just because its outcomes are less tangible, or because it is too impatient to wait for its fruits to ripen.

He said: “Nevertheless, as a Singaporean, I have nothing but gratitude for the generous public funds invested in Yale-NUS, which allowed me to receive a liberal arts education here at home.”

“Beyond critical thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving, the liberal arts experience also cultivated in many of us the ethos to use our talents to build and serve our communities.”

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Arts production company founder Shanice Stanislaus, who graduated in 2017, said: “They keep saying it’s money or accessibility, but I think it’s more than that. Instead of just coming out and facing these questions, I watched NUS respond in silence or with carefully crafted statements.”

She added: “In which world does one say it’s a carefully considered decision when your decision negatively affects hundreds of students and staff? It all looks like bad management to me.”

On Sept 13, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament that the merger of Yale-NUS College and USP is part of the NUS road map to more interdisciplinary learning.

Yale-NUS’ high costs are also part of the reason, but not the main motivation behind the decision, he added.

The new college will welcome its first intake of up to 500 students in the academic year of 2022. Students currently enrolled in the USP will transit to the new college that year.

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