Singapore's first arts university to open in August 2024, applications accepted from 2023

The University of the Arts Singapore will be formed by an "alliance" between Lasalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A new university called the University of the Arts Singapore (UAS) will open its doors in August 2024.

The university - the first in Singapore to focus on the arts - will be formed by an alliance between Lasalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) and start receiving applications in the third quarter of next year, said the Ministry of Education, Lasalle and Nafa in a joint statement on Tuesday (Aug 30).

MOE will give UAS the ability to grant degrees in areas such as fine arts and music, the ministry said in a press briefing on Tuesday, ending Lasalle and Nafa's current system of awarding degrees in partnership with reputable British universities.

Lasalle has partnered Goldsmiths University in London to validate its degrees since 2012, and Nafa started similar arrangements with Britain's Royal College of Music in 2011 and the University of the Arts London in January last year.

The last batches of students enrolling under these programmes will enter Lasalle in 2023 and Nafa in 2025 - but other collaborations, such as exchange programmes and joint projects will continue, said the institutions in Tuesday's briefing.

From then on, students at both institutions will receive degrees from UAS displaying credits along the lines of UAS-Nafa or UAS-Lasalle.

The new university, which was mooted by then Education Minister Lawrence Wong at last year’s budget debate, will comprise Lasalle, Nafa and a new company limited by guarantee, and will continue to provide government-subsidised diplomas and degrees, MOE said.

There will not be a new campus, said MOE, as UAS will operate out of the National Design Centre in Middle Road.

UAS will provide some centralised services to both Lasalle and Nafa, which will remain distinct entities, enrolling and admitting their own students and conducting their own courses, MOE said, though there will be modules offered across institutes.

Adopting this model - where Nafa and Lasalle remain separate but overseen by the new university - will allow the institutions to keep their distinct identity and heritage while elevating them, said MOE.

Nafa was founded in 1938 and Lasalle in 1984.

An MOE spokesman said: "Singapore's future economy will need talent not only from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, but also from the arts and humanities, and that is where UAS will come in to nurture them.

"They will not only work in the arts sector but will also flow into many other parts of the economy including healthcare, banking, finance and the public sector."

She added that UAS will help be a platform to plug Nafa and Lasalle into the industry, to be a national focal point for the arts and to bring more opportunities for students and faculty.

Key leadership positions have been filled, said the statement, with appointments taking effect from the start of September.

The university's board will be chaired by Filipino banker, former politician and private art collector Jose Isidro "Lito" Camacho, who is managing director and vice-chairman of Credit Suisse Asia-Pacific, which is based in Singapore.

He has appointed Professor Kwok Kian Woon, currently associate vice-president for well-being at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), as the university's inaugural vice-chancellor and chief executive, the statement said.

Prof Kwok, who is also professor of sociology, will be succeeded at NTU by Associate Professor Vivien Huan, NTU said in a separate statement. 

Former nominated MP Terence Ho - who called for a fully fledged arts university in Parliament in 2019 - said he hopes the new leadership will look closely into the curriculum to make sure graduates fit into the Arts 2.0 Ecosystem - a plan by the National Arts Council for the development of Singapore's arts scene set to run from 2023 to 2027.

He added that he hopes the new university will attract Singaporean arts talent to come in as faculty, such as composers Chua Jon Lin and Wang Chenwei.

Co-founder and director of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) T. Sasitharan said Prof Kwok is a terrific choice for leader of the new university. 

“He’s a former chairman and long-time member of the ITI board and has been involved in and is a keen observer of the Singapore arts scene,” he added.

On UAS granting degrees, Mr Sasitharan said: “It is about time Nafa and Lasalle decolonise and Singapore confers its own arts degrees. It signifies a long overdue coming of age for arts education in Singapore.” 

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