Current students and staff of Yale-NUS College were not consulted on the decision to merge the institution with the NUS University Scholars Programme (USP) to form a New College as the decision involved discussions between the senior leadership of the two universities on “sensitive issues of strategy and finance”, said Minister of Education Chan Chun Sing on Monday (13 September).

Responding to questions in Parliament on the merger which was announced a month ago, Mr Chan explained that NUS had initiated discussions with Yale University about the merger in early July 2021, and that the YNC leadership was informed later that same month.

“The NUS board of trustees endorsed the decision in early August 2021, and the YNC governing board endorsed the transition plans in late August,” he added, noting that the timing of the announcement was also discussed and jointly determined with Yale.

He later revealed that Yale University has agreed to play an advisory role in the New College as a pioneering member of the College’s international advisory panel.

Later, Mr Chan said about the motivation behind the decision to merge: “The overriding reason for this move, as NUS has shared, is the vital role of a broad-based interdisciplinary education and our job to reimagine higher education and how it will fit into the country’s plans going forward so that we can develop a new generation of students that are much more global in their perspective, more much ale to connect the east and the west, the north and the south. That is our higher goal.“

When NUS leadership announced that YNC and USP would be merged into the New College in 2025 without bearing Yale’s name, parents and students expressed surprise and concern about what it would mean for YNC’s current staff, students and alumni.

Addressing questions on how the move will affect the stature of a YNC degree, in particular, Mr Chan said: “NUS and YNC have assured all current students that they will graduate with the same degree as their predecessors.”

“NUS and Yale are both globally renowned universities with are recognised by employers including the public sector and postgrad institutions. I’m confident that the YNC degree will continue to be highly valued and its past and future graduating cohorts will remain in good standing even beyond 2025.”

He added that NUS will also continue to provide supporting documentation beyond 2025 to explain the context of YNC and what a YNC degree conveys, and provide letters of recommendation to alumni who needed them.

No effect on YNC students and staff in the next 4 years

Addressing concerns about how the merger would affect students, Mr Chan assured that students would continue to have access to the full range of majors and minors currently offered by YNC until the institution is closed in 2025.

As for the staff and faculty members, Mr Chan said that no one would be made redundant as a result of the merger. He stressed, “YNC faculty and staff have [been] and remain part of the NUS family. NUS has committed to honouring all existing employment contracts.”

He added that the YNC leadership have engaged faculty members to hear their concerns and discuss options for them after the merger take effect.

Even so, Mr Chan acknowledged that parents and students may have lingering concerns. He said that NUS and YNC will provide assistance to any students who want to “consider other options.”

New College will maintain “spirit of independent inquiry”: CCS

Some of the questions raised by MPs in parliament regarding the move related to the future of liberal arts education in Singapore and academic freedom.

Mr Chan said, “The New College will maintain the spirit of independent inquiry and inclusivity that characterises YNC, USP and NUS.

On academic freedom specifically, Mr Chan said: “First, there have been similar concerns about a perceived lack of academic freedom when YNC was established. They proved unfounded.”

“In fact, few believed then that YNC would live up to its ambition. Even fewer would own it.”

“It is perhaps ironic and a testimony to NUS and YNCs efforts all these years that YNC is now seen as a paragon of academic freedom in Singapore,” he added.

He went on to say that YNC’s policies on academic freedom were framed in reference to NUS’s own practices which have “remained unchanged since”.

He argued, “It would be grossly unfair to faculty members in NUS and other autonomous universities to suggest that their teaching or research is in any way less rigorous or of lower quality or less free than that of the YNC faculty.”

New College will be more inclusive, accessible, and affordable: CCS

Speaking on the New College, Mr Chan said that it would “retain the best elements of both institutions”. This includes the residential component and practice of small group teaching at YNC, a common curriculum, and an overall immersive experience.

“I expect the new college to also have a global orientation and welcome a diversity of international students to forge a vibrant student body,” he said.

When asked about the ratio of local to international students planned for the New College, Mr Chan said that this would be discussed by the New College planning committee.

He also said that NUS will tap on the current staff and student body of both institutions to be part of the planning committee.

As for what the New College has to offer, Mr Chan said: “With the benefits of scale, education in the new college can be much more inclusive, affordable and flexible.”

“It would offer a wider choice of majors and minors, particularly in STEM disciplines, compared to YNC, and a student experience that seeks to combine the best features of both YNC and USP.”

He added, “MOE is committed to supporting the new college and expects the cost per student at New College will be cheaper than YNC.”

When asked about the financial sustainability of the New College in a follow-up question by MP Patrick Tay, Mr Chan said that YNC is more costly on a recurrent basis.

“In 2020, MOE provided around S$40 million to YNC in operating grants for about 1,000 students in YNC. On a per student basis, this was more than double that of a humanities and science student at NUS on average,” he explained.

This is on top of the capital funding MOE provided for YNC’s infrastructure and match funding for its endowment fund, he said.

Mr Chan stressed that the government supported the merger for two reasons.

First, that the merger aligns with the government’s broader push for institutes of higher learning to expand their interdisciplinary approach to education.

“Second, because it will would education much more affordable to NUS students in keeping with NUS ethos and mission as a public university,” he added.

No implications for future partnerships

Beyond that, Worker’s Party MP for Sengkang GRC He Ting Ru asked the Education Minister for his opinion on future possible tie-ups as well as the existing tie-ups such as Duke-NUS.

She argued, “There’s a certain expression given that even though we might approach other parties for similar collaborations in the future, will we then suddenly decide that actually we’ve had enough, we’ve benefitted enough, we’re gonna forge ahead. So, I think that really ties into our academic standings and reputation.”

Mr Chan said that Singapore is in the process of building new partnerships with other universities around the world.

He explained that Singapore also has to “bring value to other people” in such collaborations. He said, “Even when we try to learn from others, we must be prepared to and be confident to chart out our own way to have our own unique value propositions. And that is how we will continue to go forward.”

“So, at this point in time, I don’t think this partnership, coming to its natural checkpoint, will have any implications for any of the other partnerships that we are in or exploring with others,” he concluded.

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