Students unhappy, anxious over plans to merge Yale-NUS and University Scholars Programme

The move to merge the liberal arts college with the National University of Singapore's University Scholars Programme (USP) was announced on Aug 27, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Yale-NUS College students who turned down a place at prestigious universities with long histories said they now feel short-changed that the college will soon cease to exist.

A first year student at Yale-NUS - who declined to be named because the university has told students not to speak to the media - said some students are considering dropping out of the Yale-NUS component of the double-degree programme in law.

He said: "This is just not what I signed up for... The timing of this is difficult as well because we have just paid about $12,000 for our first semester's tuition."

He added that he had turned down offers at University College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science in favour of Yale-NUS.

The move to merge the liberal arts college with the National University of Singapore's University Scholars Programme (USP) to form a new institution was announced on Friday morning (Aug 27), much to the surprise of students and staff.

Classes were cancelled and everyone was asked to attend a virtual townhall meeting at 9am.

When The Straits Times visited the campus on Friday afternoon, the mood was sombre, with many staff and students seen hugging one another and talking in small groups.

ST understands that a messaging group has been set up by Yale-NUS students to air concerns about the merger. Some students in the group have said they are mulling over their options, including leaving for another university.

A 24-year-old final-year student said the changes have sparked concerns about having a degree that carries the name of an "impending non-existent" college - although the degree is awarded by NUS.

Environmental researcher Xie Yihao, 28, who is from the pioneer batch of students who entered Yale-NUS in 2013 said he was shocked, angry and confused about the news, which came as a total surprise.

Mr Xie said: "I am a little uncomfortable with how this is portrayed as something to celebrate for NUS.

"Yale-NUS may just be an experiment in the Singapore education system that has served its purpose. But for students whose life trajectories could change because of this, they can't be treated like experiment subjects."

Some students and alumni said they fear that the merger will spell the end of the college's unique culture and diverse pool of international students.

A 23-year-old third-year student said: "The diversity of students will probably drop because a lot of international students know about Yale-NUS because of Yale".

Under Common App - a college application portal used by nearly 900 US colleges - prospective students can opt to apply for Yale-NUS when applying for Yale.

Former Yale-NUS student Vaness Kow, 21, who graduated this year, said the merger might mean ground-up campus groups that students have set up will disappear.

She said: "So many people have worked hard on things like creating student organisations from scratch or creating safe spaces for people to feel comfortable expressing themselves".

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Alumnus Daryl Yang, 28, who graduated in 2019 with a double degree in law and liberal arts, was former president of the Yale-NUS gender and sexuality alliance.

He said he was concerned about whether the new institution will be an inclusive community for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) students.

Mr Yang said: "My experiences at Yale-NUS were unique and cannot be replicated anywhere else because what we had built was not merely an institution of higher education, but a community of learning in pursuit of the truth and a better world."

After the virtual townhall meeting on Friday morning, board members and faculty fielded questions about issues such as cost of tuition fees and student diversity in separate dialogues for Yale-NUS and USP students.

A third-year USP student, who asked not to be named, said she was concerned about whether academic requirements for her degree programme will change.

She said: "In response to questions about academic structure in the New College (placeholder name for the new college), the NUS provost provided several vague and speculative answers. But this can always be rescinded since the session is informal.

"And the merger is upsetting because there was no student consultation for such a big decision."

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