University of Adelaide to pull out of Singapore venture

It will close private school run with Ngee Ann Kongsi but teach out their 700 students

The University of Adelaide which recently announced restructuring plans that caused an uproar among its academic staff in its home campus is closing down the private school it runs in Singapore with the philanthropic organisation Ngee Ann Kongsi.

Adelaide University and Ngee Ann Kongsi, which announced the closure of the Ngee Ann-Adelaide Education Centre yesterday in a joint press release, said the university will teach out the 700 students currently enrolled in its degree programmes here.

The university, a member of the Group of Eight coalition of Australia's leading research universities, has been running undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses here in fields such as business, computing and nursing.

The majority of the lectures are conducted by academics from the university, with the lecturers flying in from Australia to conduct classes, a model which other private school operators say cannot be sustained without the support of the university professors from the home campus.

Over the years, some 2,500 students have graduated with University of Adelaide degrees from the centre in Tank Road.

The University of Adelaide is currently considering a restructure of its own faculty and discipline structure, which has the potential to change the priorities of different areas of the university and the approach to its internationalisation efforts.

DR SUSIE KHOO, chief executive officer of the joint venture in Singapore.

The partners did not cite a specific reason for the closure, just that since the set-up of the centre 18 years ago, the global higher education market has changed and does not favour "brick and mortar delivery", referring to programmes being run in campuses.

The university also said that in its home campus, it had "redirected its own strategic focus to the small-group discovery and close interaction with researchers".

Two years ago, the university began a major shift to phase out traditional lectures, replacing them with online learning integrated with small-group work.

Earlier this month, the university made the headlines in Australia with its plan to reduce its five faculties to three next year, leaving its professors worried about job cuts.

This led to the academic union of the university passing a vote of no confidence in vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington last week, saying his plan of a major academic restructure on top of a current restructure of professional staff was the culmination of two years of chaos at the institution.

Despite the exit of several private schools here over falling enrolment, Dr Susie Khoo, chief executive officer of the joint venture, told The Straits Times that the student numbers had grown from 500 last year to 700 this year and the school was financially sound.

But in an e-mail response, she also said that the university's restructuring plans may potentially change its approach to internationalisation.

"The University of Adelaide is currently considering a restructure of its own faculty and discipline structure, which has the potential to change the priorities of different areas of the university and the approach to its internationalisation efforts," she said.

She added that the partners had recently come to the decision that this is an appropriate time to end the joint venture.

The closure comes at a time when the private education industry here is undergoing a shake-up, with more than 10 schools deregistering last year.

One of them was M2 Academy, which had tied up with University of South Australia.

Figures provided by the Council for Private Education and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, which issues student visas, show that there were an estimated 77,000 locals and 29,000 foreigners enrolled in private commercial schools last year. Media reports in 2012 said there were about 100,000 locals and about 35,000 foreigners enrolled in these schools.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'University of Adelaide to pull out of Singapore venture'. Print Edition | Subscribe