Merger of the Yale-NUS College and NUS’ University Scholars Programme

Published Date: 13 September 2021 06:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, Ang Mo Kio GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education in light of the forthcoming merger of the Yale-NUS College and NUS' University Scholars Programme (USP) (a) how will the establishment of the New College enhance the educational experience of future students as compared to the current programmes at Yale-NUS College and USP; and (b) how will the decision affect the (i) innovative and open liberal arts curriculum (ii) international make-up of the students and the faculty of the New College and (iii) higher education offerings in Singapore.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, Ang Mo Kio GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education whether support can be provided to students who have accepted an offer for the cohort starting 2022-2023 in NUS' Yale-NUS College, Faculty of Engineering or School of Design and Environment but who wish to change university or school given the recent merger announcements.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms Foo Mee Har, West Coast GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) what are the considerations behind the closure of Yale-NUS College and its planned merger with the University Scholars Programme (USP) into the New College; (b) how the various key stakeholders were consulted; and (c) how much public monies through the Ministry's subsidies, grants and funding have been spent on Yale-NUS College since its inception.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Shawn Huang Wei Zhong, Jurong GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) what are the considerations for the forthcoming merger of the Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme; (b) what measures will be taken by the Ministry to safeguard the interests of the existing students; and (c) what are the plans for the future college.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Miss Cheryl Chan Wei Ling, East Coast GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education in light of the closure of Yale-NUS College (a) how will this impact the quality of education for the students; and (b) what will be done to address potential concerns about credibility of the degree and post-graduate opportunities.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim, Sengkang GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education in light of the announcement that Yale-NUS College will cease operations by 2025 (a) how will NUS ensure that students enrolled over the course of the next four years will be able to enjoy an uncompromised educational experience; (b) whether there will be any reduction of fees or option for transfers in the event that there is a compromised experience; and (c) how will NUS ensure that the Yale-NUS degree retains its value in the future, in particular for graduates of the programme.

Question

To ask the Minister for Education regarding the decision to merge Yale-NUS College and NUS' University Scholars Programme (a) what are the motivations behind the decision; (b) whether financial factors feature in the decision; (c) whether Yale University provided any indication of willingness to continue the partnership beyond 2025; (d) why was the decision not conveyed to the student body in advance, closer to the announcement of the new College of Humanities and Sciences; and (e) whether the faculty and student body of Yale-NUS College were consulted before the decision and, if not, why not.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms He Ting Ru, Seng Kang GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education in light of the announced merger of Yale-NUS College and NUS's University Scholars Programme to create the "New College" (a) what have been the other alternatives considered and why are these options not taken; (b) when was the decision for merger made; and (c) what is the assessment on the impact on NUS' and Singapore's international academic standing from this decision.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, Nominated Member of Parliament

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) whether he can shed light on (i) the decision-making process behind the merger of Yale-NUS College and NUS' University Scholars Programme (USP) and (ii) the potential implications on collaboration between NUS and other foreign universities; and (b) whether NUS will provide refunds to Yale-NUS College and USP students who prefer to withdraw.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Leon Perera, Aljunied GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) whether there are any key performance indicators for the Yale-NUS College and what was the assessed performance on those metrics; (b) what has been the past impact of the Yale-NUS College on admissions into NUS; (c) whether there are future plans for a dedicated liberal arts college; (d) what are the plans to preserve Singapore's reputation for quality tertiary education partnerships; and (e) whether student activism at the Yale-NUS College played any part in the closure.

Response

1. Mr Speaker, Sir, the members' questions broadly fall into three areas:

  1. First, the reasons why NUS decided on the merger
  2. Second, the decision-making process.
  3. Third, support for students, faculty, and staff in the transition.

Reasons for Merger

2. 21 years ago, NUS established the USP. USP started as one of NUS's early ventures in offering a broad-based, interdisciplinary education to students. Today, it is a very successful residential living and learning model that admits around 220 students each year, and has produced about 2,500 alumni to date.

3. 10 years ago, NUS and Yale University established YNC. The aim was to establish a new unique education model that draws on the best traditions of both the East and West, with a multidisciplinary curriculum. YNC has an intake of about 250 students each year, and more than 800 students have graduated from YNC thus far. It is autonomous within NUS, but as part of the wider NUS family, it taps on the resources and facilities of NUS. The YNC degree is awarded by NUS. This decade-long partnership with Yale University has given NUS valuable insights into interdisciplinary liberal arts education, and its defining features such as the integration of residential living and learning.

4. Over these years, the rest of NUS too has continued to evolve and innovate to remain relevant to the needs of our students and country. Today, NUS is one of the leading universities in Asia and the world – in one international ranking, QS World University Rankings, NUS is ranked 11th in the world. However, NUS, like all our other universities, cannot remain static in the face of a changing and in many ways more challenging world. NUS will have to continue to evolve. So, in our quest for excellence, it means that we must continue to learn from the best internationally, while charting our own path forward with confidence. This is what brought us this far; and this is how we will go forward.

5. In a more complex, uncertain and even fragmenting world, our universities must enable our students:

  1. to be more global in orientation and exposure, able to connect East and West; North and South;
  2. to be more able to solve complex issues with greater inter-disciplinarity and versatility, connecting various disciplines, from STEM to the Arts; and
  3. to be more confident of our own value in creating new ideas in context, for Singapore and the world beyond.

6. Against this backdrop, NUS has charted a bold roadmap of educational innovations since 2018, geared towards delivering a common curriculum with more flexible pathways and more interdisciplinary learning, to develop in students greater intellectual versatility.

7. Part of this roadmap includes the establishment of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) in December 2020, which brought together two of NUS's largest faculties to offer students multiple pathways across the Humanities, Social Sciences and STEM. This will be followed by the establishment of the College of Design and Engineering (CDE) which will similarly transform the experience of our engineering, architecture and design students.

8. The New College is a third important step in this roadmap. It was motivated by NUS' vision of further developing an immersive living and learning community, where students majoring in over 50 different disciplines can come together to inquire, interact and learn from one another.

9. YNC and USP share many common features, including small group teaching, a common curriculum, and residential living and learning. Both YNC and USP graduates go on to enjoy similarly excellent employment outcomes, contributing in different sectors. The New College will bring together the best educational features of both YNC and USP. With the New College more fully integrated with the rest of the university ecosystem, its students will benefit from greater exposure to a wider range of disciplines compared to just YNC alone.

10. Mr Speaker, Sir, when we first decided to set up YNC, we knew that it would cost more. The cost of education of a YNC student today is more than double that of a Humanities or Sciences student in NUS. Likewise, both tuition fees and government funding are more than double. But we accepted this because we saw value in having a liberal arts college in our tertiary education system. YNC hoped to raise over SGD $300m to reach an endowment fund size of around SGD $1 billion with government matching and investment returns. This would then have reduced the burden on the annual operating income of fees and government subsidies. YNC has done its utmost in raising funds, but through no fault of its own has not reached its target. Transitioning to the New College will give us economies of scale, and reduce costs to some extent. This will be an important consideration, but not the main motivation for the change.

11. NUS has learnt much from its partnership with Yale and in operating YNC, and it has affirmed the value of a liberal arts educational approach. It has decided that it is time to build on the best features of YNC and USP, and take a step forward to expand access and enhance the scope of its educational offerings, by merging YNC with the USP.

Decision-Making Process and Stakeholder Concerns

12. The launch of the New College is an important move. It also has implications for many stakeholders, not least for the YNC community of students, parents, faculty and staff. I understand the sadness and sense of loss and uncertainty they may feel, especially for those who have played a part in building up YNC over the past decade. Allow me to address the decision-making process and how students and all the affected stakeholders will be supported.

13. First, the decision-making process and timing of the announcement.

  1. In early-July 2021, NUS initiated discussions with Yale University. Yale acknowledged NUS's vision to bring together both YNC and USP into a New College that would not bear Yale's name. The YNC leadership was informed in the 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.
  2. In July, the issue of timing was also discussed with Yale and jointly determined. While the partnership would only end in 2025, both parties felt that the responsible thing to do was to announce it early rather than hold back. It would have been bad faith to delay the announcement and continue to admit students who would not be able to complete their education in YNC, or to continue to hire faculty, beyond this juncture.
  3. The announcement was thus planned for August, after the YNC Governing Board considered and endorsed the broad transition approach. This allowed faculty and staff the maximum time – between now and 2025 – to work through the details of the transition. This also means that YNC's 2021 intake would be its final cohort. The Class of 2025 cohort would have the full four years to complete their undergraduate studies at YNC.
  4. Some have also asked why there was no consultation with the current student body and staff. NUS did not do so because the decision involved discussions between the senior leadership of two universities, and with their respective Boards, on sensitive issues of strategy and finances. Instead, NUS once having settled the broad parameters, wanted to give maximum time for the transition to occur and for the stakeholders to be involved in working through the transition issues.

14. Second, students, parents and alumni have asked how the move affects the stature of the YNC degree.

  1. Today, YNC graduates graduate with a YNC degree that is awarded by NUS itself. NUS and YNC have assured all current students that they will graduate with the same degree as their predecessors.
  2. NUS and Yale are both globally renowned universities which are well-recognised by employers, including the public sector, and postgraduate institutions. I am confident that the YNC degree will continue to be highly valued, and its past and future cohorts will remain in good standing, even after 2025.
  3. Beyond 2025, NUS will continue to provide supporting documentation to explain the context of YNC and what a YNC degree conveys, and provide letters of recommendation or referees, if alumni need them.

15. Third, concerns around how the merger will affect current students, faculty and staff.

  1. Students in YNC will continue to have access to the full range of majors and minors currently offered by YNC until 2025.
  2. I know that many YNC students are actively involved in student organisations and look forward to a fulfilling campus life during their time at the College. The establishment of the New College will open new possibilities for students of YNC, USP and the New College to interact and collectively participate in active and inclusive student life in the next few years.
  3. For faculty and staff, no one will be made redundant as a result of this merger. YNC is an autonomous institution under NUS; YNC faculty and staff have been and remain part of the NUS family. NUS has committed to honoring all existing employment contracts. YNC leadership have been engaging faculty members to hear their concerns and discuss possible options for faculty members after the merger takes full effect in 2025, four years ahead of time.

16. The YNC Governing Board, comprising NUS and Yale University leadership, will continue to steward the College until its transition in 2025.

17. I know some students and parents may nevertheless have lingering concerns, and we respect the preferences of those who may wish to consider other options. NUS and YNC will engage them and provide assistance where they can.

Future of Liberal Arts Education

18. Mr Speaker, Sir, Ms Nadia Samdin and Mr Leon Perera asked about the future of liberal arts education in Singapore.

19. NUS is in fact building on the foundations of YNC and USP, as well as the lessons gleaned from the collaboration with Yale University. It wants to make the distinctive features of education in YNC and USP more inclusive and more accessible. The New College will maintain the spirit of independent inquiry and inclusivity that characterize YNC, USP and NUS.

Academic Freedom

20. Some have asked about the impact of the merger on academic freedom in Singapore. On this topic, I would like to make two points.

  1. First, there had 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 YNC's efforts all these years, that YNC is now seen as a paragon of academic freedom in Singapore.
  2. Second, YNC's current policies on academic freedom were in fact framed by taking reference from NUS's practices relating to academic freedom, and these practices have remained unchanged since. The faculties of arts and social sciences in NUS and other Autonomous Universities (AUs) also have had a long history of teaching and research, including on potentially sensitive and difficult topics, long before the establishment of YNC. They are highly-ranked globally, and attract distinguished scholars. It would be grossly unfair to faculty members in NUS and other AUs to suggest that their teaching or research is in any way less rigorous, or of lower quality or less free than that of YNC faculty.

Future of Overseas Collaborations

21. Mr Speaker, Sir, our universities must continue to adopt a globally-oriented and inclusive posture to stay relevant in the world and keep striving to improve. Many of our newer institutions were started in partnership with leading global universities, so that we can learn from the best globally. These partnerships have generally progressed, evolved and matured as intended. In some cases, they come to a natural end at the checkpoints designed into the initial partnership agreements.

22. Meanwhile, our universities continue to seek out new partnerships where we can benefit from the experiences of others, and where we can value-add to the relationship meaningfully. We have much more to learn from others, not just from universities in the United States, but equally from Europe, Asia and elsewhere. But to be an attractive partner for others, we too must find our own unique value propositions. We cannot and should not be a cloned version of others, no matter how successful they may be.

23. Yale has been a longstanding friend of NUS, and a visionary partner in the YNC College. We are glad that Yale has agreed to play an advisory role in the New College as a pioneering member of the College's international advisory panel. We are also open to exploring other collaboration opportunities with Yale University in the future.

New College

24. Mr Speaker, Sir, this brings me to questions on the New College and what it will look like. MPs have asked how it will improve the overall student experience compared to today, and what resources will be invested.

25. The New College will retain the best elements of both institutions – including a residential component, YNC's practice of small-group teaching, 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.

26. In setting up the New College, NUS is not starting from scratch. It will tap on the experiences of the faculty and students of both YNC and USP, and build on the strong foundations and rich traditions. Students and faculty from YNC and USP have been invited to be part of the New College planning committee. I am sure they will have much to contribute to make the New College a success.

27. 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. With closer integration with the wider NUS ecosystem, all NUS students will also be able to benefit from and access the New College's facilities, resources, and community.

28. MOE is committed to supporting the New College. We expect that tuition fees and costs per student will be lower than at YNC, in keeping with the vision of the New College to be a more inclusive, affordable and accessible model of education.

29. Some have asked whether NUS can deliver this enhanced ambition, and whether there will be impact on its overall standing. There is no reason to believe why a university like NUS, which has grown in strength and reputation over the years, cannot continue to achieve great things.

Conclusion

30. In closing, Mr Speaker, Sir, the establishment of the New College marks a new chapter in inquiry-driven, interdisciplinary education for NUS and for Singapore. The NUS and YNC leadership are committed to supporting the YNC and USP communities through the transition, and to making the New College a success.

31. This move brings exciting new opportunities, so my hope is that we look ahead and move forward together. Last week, I had the chance to speak with student leaders from YNC and USP. I listened to their hopes and concerns and encouraged them to work together on their journey ahead. I have every confidence that we will take forward the legacy, spirit, and communities of YNC and USP together.

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