Yale-NUS students, staff not consulted on closure due to 'sensitive' issues: Chan Chun Sing

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Education Minister Chan Chun Sing addresses Parliament on Monday, 13 September 2021. (SCREENGRAB: Ministry of Communications and Information YouTube channel)
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing addresses Parliament on Monday, 13 September 2021. (SCREENGRAB: Ministry of Communications and Information YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — Yale-NUS College (YNC) students and staff were not consulted on YNC's forthcoming closure due to "sensitive issues" of strategy and finances, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Monday (13 September)

Instead, Chan told the House the decision came about during discussions of these issues between the senior leadership of the two universities, and with their respective boards.

The minister was responding to questions from more than a dozen fellow Members of Parliament (MPs) on the controversial decision to close YNC in 2025, which was announced on 26 August. The National University of Singapore (NUS) is merging the University Scholars Programme (USP) and YNC into a new college, which has yet to be officially named.

Among others, MPs wanted to know the reasons for the closure, and how the interests of the existing cohort of YNC students would be safeguarded.

Chan noted that YNC was established in 2011 with the aim of establishing a new and unique education model that drew 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.

"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."

Discussions began in early June

Chan revealed that NUS initiated discussions with Yale University on the closure in early July, with the YNC leadership informed in the same month. The NUS Board of Trustees endorsed the decision in early August, and the YNC Governing Board endorsed the transition plans in late-August.

And 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, said the minister. "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."

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

Cost a factor

Chan also echoed NUS president Professor Tan Eng Chye's point, expressed in a Straits Times commentary on Saturday, that Yale-NUS had not met endowment targets and was expensive to run.

YNC had hoped to raise over $300 million to reach an endowment fund size of around $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," said Chan. He noted that the cost of educating 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. 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."

Academic freedom not affected

Chan also insisted that the YNC closure would not affected academic freedom. "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," he claimed.

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 also have had a long history of teaching and research, said Chan, including on potentially sensitive and difficult topics, long before the establishment of YNC.

"It would be grossly unfair to faculty members in NUS and other AUs (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 YNC faculty."

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