Yale is turning its international attention southward from China to lend a hand to the National University of Singapore.
The Southeast Asian island’s largest university invited Yale administrators and professors to consult at the end of June on a new liberal arts college that NUS hopes to open. Administrators have not decided the extent of Yale’s commitment to the project, and there is no timeline for the college’s opening.
Yale administrators — including University President Richard Levin, Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer and Provost Peter Salovey — formed three faculty committees on residential and extracurricular life, academic curriculum and faculty development to examine how an American-style liberal arts campus could take root in Singapore. But the University’s role is limited to consultation for now, said Levin, who called the initiative a “planning exercise.”
“Where this will go is uncertain,” Levin said. “It could be evolved into more of a longer-term role.”
For instance, he said, Yale may eventually partner with NUS to open jointly a campus in Singapore. But he said no decisions have been made yet and, at this point, Yale is just “acting as a consultant.”
NUS’s proposed liberal arts college would draw about 1,000 students from across Asia to study a broad curriculum at a residential campus adjacent to NUS proper.
The college’s curriculum would aim to imitate the approach, though not necessarily the content, of American universities. While students at American liberal arts universities study a broad range of subjects at first and concentrate on a specific field later on, students at Singaporean and other Asian universities choose an area of focus at the outset of their college years, rarely taking core classes or electives outside their specializations.
“Top research universities in the U.S. also offer excellent liberal arts education,” said NUS Vice President for University and Global Relations Lily Kong, who heads the initiative for NUS, in an e-mail. “Yale offers an exceptional example.”
Beyond theoretical discussions about the college’s administrative makeup and curriculum, little has occurred to move NUS’s plans forward: Singapore’s Ministry of Education, which oversees NUS as well as other Singaporean universities, has not yet dedicated funding to the project.
“They haven’t made any decision yet about whether they even want to pursue it,” Salovey said of the proposed college.
This is not the first time the island nation has reached out to a Western university. Not only has the Singaporean government encouraged Western universities — including Johns Hopkins University, MIT, the University of Warwick in England and the University of New South Wales in Australia — to open facilities in Singapore, but NUS and other Singaporean universities also have hired many faculty members from abroad. As the country attempts to give its research and academic facilities international prominence, Singapore’s collaborations with universities abroad have become more extensive, said J. Joseph Errington, the chairman of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies.
“They want to internationalize,” Errington said. “Singapore is a global city in every sense of the term … Its survival depends on its ability to increase and deepen the extent of its connections abroad, and that now includes the academic scene as well.”
But several of the country’s collaborations with Western universities have floundered. The University of New South Wales’ Singapore branch closed less than two months after opening in 2007 after being unable to attract enough students to pay for its $138 million campuses. Meanwhile, faculty at the University of Warwick voted to reject a proposed Singapore campus over concerns that the Singaporean government would restrict academic freedom too heavily. Levin said he is unconcerned about the quality of academic expression in the country.
The initiative, Levin added, presents “a very exciting opportunity” to adapt a traditional Western canon-based curriculum for an Asian student body.
“Think about re-conceptualizing the liberal arts curriculum with a blank sheet of paper,” Levin said. “Think of this as a global institution located in Asia, perhaps putting West and East in conversation.”
NUS turned to Yale because of the two universities’ previous relationship, Kong said. The Yale-in-NUS program has sent students to Singapore every year since the summer of 2006 to take five weeks of summer classes for credit. Students live alongside NUS students and travel to Malaysia and Thailand as part of a curriculum focused on Southeast Asian studies.
In exchange, 10 NUS students have traveled to New Haven each summer since then to take Yale Summer Session classes.