The Workers’ Party (WP) aims to gain “more insight” into the decision-making process behind the closure of Yale-NUS College in the upcoming Parliamentary sitting, said WP Member of Parliament (MP) for Sengkang GRC Jamus Lim on Wednesday (1 Sept).
Yale-NUS College was established in 2011 as a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore (NUS), becoming the first liberal arts institution in Singapore.
NUS announced on 27 Aug that it plans to establish a provisionally named “New College”, which will merge Yale-NUS College with NUS’ University Scholars Programme (USP). The new college is set to welcome its first intake of up to 500 students in the academic year of 2022.
In addition to that, NUS will also merge its Faculty of Engineering and School of Design and Environment to form the College of Design and Engineering.
It was also announced that Yale-NUS College will cease by 2025 after its current first-year students have graduated. According to its news website, Yale-NUS will provide current students – about 250 per cohort – a full array of programming and courses through their graduation, but will not admit a new cohort for the 2022/23 academic year.
The announcement, however, has led students from various faculties of NUS to launch a petition, titled “NUS – Reverse the Mergers and #NoMoreTopDown”, rejecting the merger decisions of several NUS colleges. The petition has garnered over 12,260 signatures at the time of writing.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Assoc Prof Lim noted that he finds the closure of Yale-NUS College “regrettable”, even though he surmised that most Singaporeans would be “apathetic” to the development due to some reasons.
“While Yale has an easily recognizable brand name, it is, after all, an elite institution, which by definition caters to a very limited few,” said the WP member.
“The idea of the liberal arts is also alien to most Asians. Asian universities tend to focus most on science, technology, and other professional fields that are perceived to contribute most to economic output (and yield jobs for graduates),” he added.
The college had also frequently come under scrutiny for issues of free expression.
For instance, the Yale-NUS course “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore”, which was scheduled to be run by playwright Alfian Sa’at and programme manager Tan Yock Theng of NUS in 2019, was cancelled as Alfian was told that the course was insufficiently academically rigorous and could pose a legal risk to the students.
Referring to the incident, Assoc Prof Lim noted that this has led some to believe that the college was “a hotbed for dissident, far-left thinking”.
“While some may rue the loss of a fancy cobranded school—which raises the country’s profile in seeking to be a global educational hub—I believe that the average Singaporean would not regard Yale-NUS’s closure as a big deal. Que será, será,” he added.
In his post, Assoc Prof Lim also explained why he thinks that liberal arts is as much “an approach to scholarly enquiry”, which premised on a multidisciplinary framework and critical thinking, as it is a curriculum.
“Those in charge will probably point to the formation of the interdisciplinary College of Humanities and Sciences as an upgraded replacement. A ‘new college’ will also absorb the erstwhile University Scholars Programme (an ‘honors track’ deal), but it’s unclear if these are the same thing,” he noted.
Citing his one year experience of teaching in a small liberal arts college, Assoc Prof Lim said such educational institutions can be “amazing crucibles for fostering a love for learning”, adding that the flat structure and small interactive classes are not “easily replicable”.
“Of course, as an educator and Singaporean, I very much wish for the new endeavor to succeed. But if I had my druthers, I would have rather seen the two institutions side-by-side. That’s how competition in ideas gets refined and enriched,” he added.
“So the bottom line is that I find the loss of Yale-NUS regrettable, not only because it represented a tiny beacon of diversity in local education, but also because we now have one less avenue for informed debate (not to mention the poor students having their alma mater wiped out).”
Assoc Prof Lim noted that he and his fellow WP MPs will raise a number of questions to the Minister for Education in the upcoming sitting of Parliament on the matter, as they hope to gain more insight into the decision-making process behind the Yale-NUS closure.
Below are the parliamentary questions that will be raised by Assoc Prof Lim in relation to the NUS’ decision to merge Yale-NUS College and the USP:
- What were the main motivations behind the decision to terminate the respective programs;
- Did financial factors feature at all in the decision;
- Would the initiative have definitely continued beyond 2025, had NUS not initiated the termination decision;
- Could the announcement of the merger decision have been conveyed to the student body in advance, in particular closer to the announcement of the new College of Humanities and Sciences; and
- Was there any consultation of the faculty and student body of Yale-NUS prior to the public announcement of the decision, and if not, why not.
On top of these questions, Assoc Prof Lim will also be asking the Minister for Education questions relating to the closure of Yale-NUS by 2025.
These questions include—how NUS will ensure that students enrolled until 2025 will enjoy an uncompromised educational experience; whether there will be any reduction of fees or options for transfers if there is a compromised experience; and how NUS will ensure that the Yale-NUS degree retains its value in the future.
“Postscript: after submitting these questions, I had to modify the specific language of some to comply with the requirement that PQs not pose hypotheticals. But the spirit of the questions remain unaltered,” he remarked.
Separately, WP MP for Sengkang GRC He Ting Ru also took to Facebook on Wednesday saying that “it has been unclear as to what were the considerations that led to the merger with confusion on the timeline of the decision making processes”.
“This is important, given that students and various stakeholders that are affected by this change have been caught unaware and now have to face the task of reconfiguring their next steps,” she wrote.
Ms He will seek answers from the Minister for Education on whether there were other alternatives considered and why were these options not taken, as well as the budget to be spent on the creation of the New College and the expected cost to be funded from the public funds, among others.
“In my PQs, I am asking for clarity. Many have shared that they feel this is a top-down decision that left them feeling lost, confused, disgruntled and seeking answers,” she remarked.
WP MP for Aljunied GRC Leon Perera has also shared his list of Parliamentary questions on Facebook that ask about the KPIs of NUS and the Ministry of Education (MOE) with regards to Yale-NUS College and what was assessed to be the performance on those metrics.
Mr Perera also raised questions relating to the impact of Yale-NUS on the quality and quantity of admissions to NUS, and whether the nature of student activism on the Yale-NUS campus play any part in the decision, among others.
“The announcement of the closure of Yale-NUS College has drawn a great deal of attention, due to the suddenness of the decision, what would seem to be a lack of transparency and consultation in the run-up to that decision and where that leaves liberal arts education and Singapore’s reputation as a hub for global educational partnerships.
“Some believe that there is no point in talking about this anymore since the decision is a ‘fait accompli’. I disagree,” he remarked.