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WTC Long Read: Parsing the shock announcement of Yale-NUS College’s impending closure

This piece morphed and evolved as I wrote it over the past few days. I didn’t want to rehash things that were already being reported by the local media, so I was looking for a way We, The Citizens could add value to what’s out there. I ended up putting this together based on existing reporting, conversations with faculty and students, and my personal observations/interactions with Yale-NUS students over the years. I hope this will be useful in summing up what’s happened so far, what some of the public discussions have been, and why this is more than just about administrative shifts in academic institutions.

I usually only email special issues to Milo Peng Funders before making the piece available on the website, but today I'm sending this one out to everyone.

(One housekeeping note: I sometimes label a special issue a “WTC Long Read” but realised that I’ve never defined what this actually means! From now on, “WTC Long Read” will refer to special issues that are over 3,000 words long.)

Last Friday morning, the National University of Singapore (NUS) announced that Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) would be merged to form a “New College”. For all intents and purposes, though, it looks more like the closure of Yale-NUS; the college will cease to exist after the current cohort of freshmen graduate in 2025. Yale-NUS will no longer accept new students after this academic year, and the New College will admit students from the 2022/23 academic year on.

As fast and unexpected as a lightning strike

This announcement came as a shock to almost everyone, most particularly the faculty and students of Yale-NUS College and USP. While some say they’d guessed that this liberal arts tie-up between Yale University and NUS would one day come to an end, there’d been no indication that such an announcement was going to be made now. Students told Channel News Asia that they’d only been informed on Thursday that Friday morning classes were cancelled. The next morning, they were given a link to attend a virtual town hall. But it wasn’t actually a town hall, which would have emphasised participation and listening to constituents’ concerns. It was in a webinar format, and no questions were taken. There was then a breakout session, but it wasn’t much of a dialogue either. Questions could only be sent in, upon which they were read out and answered. Obviously, there wasn’t enough time to address everyone’s queries.

For Yale-NUS students, it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. The new academic year opened earlier this month, which means that tuition fees for the semester have already been paid. This isn’t cheap: according to the college’s website, tuition fees (not including residential college and other miscellaneous fees) for the current academic year stand at over $20,000 for Singaporeans, over $31,000 (without tuition grants) for Permanent Residents, and over $45,000 for international students. Trying to transfer to a new university now would likely be challenging. A first-year student told The Straits Times that they’d turned down offers from other reputable institutions in favour of a Yale-NUS education, only to find out now that their college will be defunct by the time they graduate.

As things transition, how different will people’s jobs end up looking from what they’d originally signed up for? The fact that no one knows the answer just adds to the shock, anxiety, sadness, and anger.

Faculty, from new hires to old-timers, have been blindsided. Just weeks ago they’d have been prepping for the semester’s opening, without a clue of what was to come. Money, time, and energy have been spent reviewing curriculum. Now, lecturers and academics are wondering what will happen to their courses and their jobs. NUS has stated that no one will be made redundant and that all contracts will be honoured, but there isn’t much detail beyond that so far.

“[As] the number of students declines, there will likely be opportunities to teach the New College students or to be engaged with other NUS departments,” it reads on the Frequently Asked Questions made about the New College. Yet no one knows what that will look like; NUS doesn’t offer the same sort of interdisciplinary programme that Yale-NUS does, and it’s not clear how things at the New College will turn out. As things transition, how different will people’s jobs end up looking from what they’d originally signed up for? The fact that no one knows the answer just adds to the shock, anxiety, sadness, and anger.

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