Yale-NUS College

Merger part of NUS' road map to more interdisciplinary learning

Education Minister says high costs part of reason but not main motivation behind move

The merger of Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) into the New College is part of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) road map to more interdisciplinary learning, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament yesterday.

It comes after the creation of the College of Humanities and Sciences by bringing together the arts and science faculties and the College of Design and Engineering, which will merge the School of Design and Environment and the Faculty of Engineering.

The College of Humanities and Sciences was created in December last year, while the College of Design and Engineering was announced at the same time as the Yale-NUS merger on Aug 27.

Yale-NUS' high costs are also part of the reason, but not the main motivation behind the decision, he said, in reply to questions from People's Action Party and Workers' Party MPs on the merger.

The decision has drawn criticism from both students and parents, and speculation about the decision-making process behind it has grown over the last few weeks.

Mr Chan said the cost of educating a student at Yale-NUS is more than double that of a regular NUS humanities or sciences student.

He added that both tuition fees and government funding for the college are more than double.

"But we accepted this because we saw value in having a liberal arts college in our ter-tiary system," he said.

The minister added that the college has "done its utmost in raising funds but through no fault of its own, has not reached its target" of $300 million.

The target amount would have given it an endowment of around $1 billion with government matching and investment returns which would have reduced the burden on government subsidies, he said.

He added that transitioning to the New College, the placeholder name for the new entity, will create "economies of scale" and reduce costs to some extent.

Five MPs asked follow-up questions after Mr Chan spoke, but there was not much debate.

Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) asked about the financial situation of the college and how integrated Yale-NUS is with the rest of NUS.

Mr Chan replied that last year, his ministry provided $48 million in operating grants to the college of about 1,000 students.

He added that the college's facilities, such as its multi-purpose hall, study areas, lounges and fitness areas are currently accessible only to Yale-NUS students.

The New College will be accessible to all NUS students, he said.

Mr Chan also said the New College will not have a separate governing board from NUS but, instead, will have an international advisory committee.

The college's financial sustainability has come under the spotlight, and leadership from both NUS and Yale-NUS have spoken publicly on the college's failure to reach its funding goals.

Last Saturday, NUS president Tan Eng Chye said in an opinion piece published by The Straits Times that Yale-NUS had raised only $80 million out of its original goal of $300 million in endowment donations.

Yesterday, Mr Chan said NUS' movement towards interdisciplinary learning and more flexible pathways began in 2018 in response to a more uncertain and fragmented world.

The Yale-NUS merger with USP was motivated by NUS' vision of developing an immersive living and learning community, where students majoring in over 50 different disciplines can come together.

The minister also said the New College will be more integrated with the rest of the university than Yale-NUS was, allowing its students greater exposure to more disciplines.

"NUS has learnt much from its relationship with Yale and in operating Yale-NUS, and it has affirmed the value of a liberal arts educational approach," he said.

"It has decided that it is time to build on the best features of Yale-NUS College, and take a step forward to expand access and enhance the scope of its educational offerings by merging Yale-NUS with the USP."

The Ministry of Education is committed to supporting the New College, and it expects tuition fees and costs per student to be lower than those at Yale-NUS - in keeping with the vision for it to be more inclusive, affordable and accessible, Mr Chan added.

The New College will retain the best elements of both institutions - including a residential component, small-group teaching, a common curriculum and an immersive experience, the minister said.

He expects it to have a global orientation and welcome a diverse group of international students.

"In setting up the New College, NUS is not starting from scratch. It will tap the experiences of the faculty and students of both Yale-NUS and USP, and build on their strong foundations and rich traditions.

"Students and faculty from Yale-NUS and USP have been invited to be part of the New College planning committee," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2021, with the headline 'Merger part of NUS' road map to more interdisciplinary learning'. Subscribe