Over the past two days, Yale-NUS has taken major steps in its development — hosting an international conference on liberal education and officially inaugurating its new campus.
On Sunday, Yale-NUS held a symposium on international liberal education, which aimed to facilitate the discussion and analysis of the greatest challenges facing higher education today. About 40 leaders in higher education attended the conference, including Yale President Peter Salovey and former Yale President Richard Levin. Those in attendance said participants discussed a range of subjects, from the accessibility of higher education to the role of universities in promoting public service. The following day, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, headlined the official inauguration of Yale-NUS’s new campus, which consists of three residential colleges, 1,000 student dorm rooms and a college library. Yale-NUS administrators and faculty began moving into the newly constructed spaces in May, and students have been living there since the start of the academic year.
“It is an opportunity to come together to celebrate what has been accomplished so far and recognize the future ahead,” Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said.
Salovey, Lewis, President of the National University of Singapore Tan Chorh Chuan and Lee all spoke during the campus’s inauguration.
During his speech, Salovey spoke highly of Singapore’s emphasis on the value of higher education, adding that it has been a privilege to work with Singapore and its national university in creating Yale-NUS.
“Yale and NUS have joined their strengths, called on the best traditions of East and West and contributed to the creation of something new: a liberal arts college experience that before now could not have been found in either the East or the West,” Salovey said in his speech. “May this new college become a model for many such partnerships around the world, and as we welcome the community of faculty and students to their new quarters, may they occupy these wonderful spaces in the spirit of gratitude and service, eager to fulfill every hope in Singapore and at Yale that gave birth to this new college.”
Students interviewed said the inauguration provided a chance to contemplate the past, present and future of Yale-NUS, as well as the idea of giving back after college. But others questioned whether the event would help define the identity of the college in the long term.
Zach Mahon YNUS ’17 said the inauguration fostered reflection on the progress Yale-NUS has made since its inception. Mahon said service was a common theme of the inaugural speeches, adding that Lee ended his speech by telling students to “go forth and change the world.”
“It was really an exciting day for the school, especially for those of us who have been here since the beginning to see it finally come into fruition,” Mahon said. “Yale-NUS feels like a college now.”
Ng Qi Siang YNUS ’19 said Lee’s speech was the highlight of the inauguration, adding that it centered on Yale-NUS’ role in helping bridge the gap between the East and the West through a new higher education model. However, Ng noted that Lee also said Yale-NUS would not be a carbon copy of Yale. Ng said that while the inauguration is a celebration of the new campus, one-time events like these cannot determine the identify of a college; rather, daily interactions, student initiatives and group discussions form that identity over time.
Carmen Denia YNUS ’17 said that over the course of the inauguration, the Yale-NUS community had the chance to look back on what the school has accomplished over the past three years, as well as to imagine what the new space will allow the college to achieve in the future. Still, Denia said it would take years to know if the inauguration ultimately helped Yale-NUS build its identity.
The symposium the day prior to the inauguration featured two panels and hosted university leaders from around the world, including China, Korea, India and the Czech Republic.
At the event, Salovey said he hoped for increased engagement between Yale and Yale-NUS in the future.
“I think it is fair to say that we both share a desire to see more direct exchanges of faculty and students, the exploration of students, the exploration of more joint programs between Yale and NUS, a continued effort to find the right balance between the new college’s mission to serve its host country and its dedication to a highly internationalized faculty and student community — and, quite honestly, more effective ways we can both take what we are learning at Yale-NUS and apply those lessons back in our own institutions,” Salovey said.
During the first panel, titled “Dialogue Among Presidents,” university leaders gathered to discuss the challenges facing undergraduate education in the 21st century, especially those concerning liberal arts education.
Lewis said one important observation made by the first panel highlighted the trend towards liberal arts education in Asia. An increasing number of Asian institutions have introduced liberal arts models in the past few years, Lewis said, adding that the shift has resulted in an increasing number of humanities classes and a broader scope of knowledge and has given students more choices.
Yet, Lewis said the panel also noted that in Western countries, there is a crisis of liberal arts education and a growing need to defend it.
“[In the West], there is an increasing focus on STEM and technical education, but it is important to realize that liberal arts education is to encompass both arts and science,” Lewis said.
The second panel, “The Future of International Liberal Education,” was moderated by Lewis and had a stronger Yale-NUS focus. Levin and Tan reviewed the origins of Yale-NUS, their hopes for the college and the purpose of the Yale and NUS partnership.
Afterward, university leaders from three different continents — Zhang Jie, president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College in New York and Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom — each spoke about a distinct aspect of higher education. Zhang discussed the 10-year track for faculty that was introduced at SJTU, Hill discussed access to education and Hamilton discussed the differences between the British and American style of education.
Mahon, who observed part of the symposium, said Hamilton also explored the purpose of a liberal education.
“The subject is a vehicle for the training of the mind,” Mahon quoted Hamilton as saying.
A tour of the new campus took place after the inauguration ceremony.