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Yale to set up campus in Singapore

The National University of Singapore and Yale University announced that they will establish the Yale-NUS College which will be Singapore's first liberal arts college. The new college will begin operations in 2013 and will initially accept 150 students

Yale president Richard Levin defended the idea of offering a program in Asia

We believe that if Yale is to engage the world in ways that may shape the global future, we should recognize that many nations live by different traditions and norms. Despite obvious constraints on the scope of public discourse, our investigation shows that there is real opportunity for robust inquiry and discussion on the NUS campus. The limitations we would need to accept, given Singaporean tradition and law, have to be weighed against the opportunity we have to influence over time the curriculum and pedagogy in a major part of the world.

However, some members of Yale faculty pointed out that Yale’s liberal tradition is not compatible with the ‘authoritarian regime’ in Singapore. Even the student paper, Yale Daily News, is not supportive of Yale’s expansion in Singapore

The new Yale-NUS will look like Yale, but it won’t hand out Yale degrees. Yale appointees will sit on its board, but likely alongside members of the Singaporean government, like those on the NUS board. Its students will take classes taught by Yale professors, but in them, they won’t be able to read banned books about the regime’s death penalty, jailhouse torture, homosexuality prohibition, or its censorship.

Even if local laws do not explicitly limit campus scholarship, self-censorship by students and faculty certainly will. Who would publish a fiery doctoral thesis in a country that metes out caning for minor offenses? A country that slanders and jails academics and authors for running foul of its government?

They added that the University of Warwick in England decided not to set up a branch in Singapore in 2005 because of the perceived lack of academic freedom in the prosperous city state. Even John Hopkins University closed a research facility when it had a conflict with the Singapore government.

The Kent Ridge Common, a student-baded paper in Singapore, clarified that politics is freely discussed in Singapore schools

Political topics in Singapore, quite frankly, enjoy a no-holds barred discussion in NUS.

Rather then operating in a strictly controlled environment where they have to watch what they speak, and speak only the good things, lecturers often even joke about the inherent flaws or prejudices of ‘sensitive’ topics in the lecture halls or classrooms.

Students — young Singaporeans belonging to a completely different generation, if anything, are even more engaged and rigorous during classroom discussions. Points are often passionately and strongly made in class — whether critical or supportive of Singapore’s system — to show that young Singaporeans really care about the future of their country, and are not merely limited by a myopic and one-sided assessment of Singapore’s system.

Singaporeans have the liberty to speak, and Professors have the liberty to teach.

Koh Choon Hwee thinks that the presence of an Ivy League institution in Singapore affirms the prevailing attitude in society of worshipping the ‘superior’ education of Western countries

Hence, while I do feel happy for the Yale-NUS College, as an NUS student and as a Singaporean, I am aware that this ‘happiness’ exists within a discourse of ‘Western superiority’. My ‘happiness’ quickly dissipates into apathetic jadedness (read: sian) at this point.

Further, after the euphoria of Ivy League novelty subsides, one observes that this is no revolutionary change in substance.

YNC however has the name ‘Yale’ and will have Yale faculty involved in the program – to some that may mean all the difference, to others that may not. In terms of NUS-branding, perhaps this is that crucial difference.

An anonymous commented in the blog of my sketchbook rejects the planned Yale-NUS joint undertaking

whats up with all these tie-ups?! are the universities here in singapore trying (to) gain “instant” credibility by all these? i believe that universities in singapore have the capabilities and the capacity to be excellent institutions by themselves but of course they have to be patient as it will take time…but it will happen…but by doing these tie-ups they are short-changing themselves as when the relationship is over, you are left with nothing….

Joel Chow prefers that NUS develop its own brand rather than gain prestige through a partnership with Yale

While the partnership with Yale is doubtlessly a coup for NUS, the terms of the agreement reflect an unequal burden upon the university that is perhaps too high a price to pay for Yale’s brand name.

Furthermore, the partnership with Yale overlooks the organic development of our own liberal arts college in NUS and suggests a preoccupation with securing big name partnerships rather than looking to our own backyard for viable alternatives.

While we have reason to celebrate the partnership with an Ivy League institution like Yale, perhaps it is also time we seriously start cultivating our own brand name, only then can we really become a leading global university centred in Asia.

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