Johns Hopkins

Yale University in Singapore—the Liberal Arts in Asia—and its Discontents


  • Singapore becoming university hub for Asia
  • Dozens of top flight universities have joint ventures in Singapore
  • Yale NUS project creating tension in New Haven

The small city state of Singapore, with a population of just over 5 million, is quickly becoming the educational hub of Asia. Prior to the turn of the 21st century, Singapore offered postsecondary degrees almost solely through its two large flagship universities: National University of Singapore (NUS), and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Then, in January 2000, Singapore Management University opened its doors, followed by Singapore Institute of Management (2005), Singapore Institute of Technology (2009), Singapore University of Technology and Design (2011), and, coming soon, Yale/NUS (2013).

Although Yale already has a joint program with Peking University in China, the Yale/NUS liberal arts college will establish Yale’s permanent presence in the heart of Southeast Asia. The campus will begin its first class of 150 students in August of 2013 (actually in July—as the first class will be provided a month long orientation in New Haven, CT). The plan is for class size to increase, over the next several years, to 250 students per class, raising total enrollment to 1000.

Yale-NUS college will now be added to the already extensive list of alliances between US, along with European and Australian, universities and the various colleges and technical schools in Singapore: Chapman University in Film & TV production, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Asia Campus, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Johns Hopkins Division of Biomedical Sciences (NUS), Singapore Stanford Partnership (NTU), Singapore MIT Alliance (NTU), Cornell School of Hospitality Management (NTU), UN Las Vegas, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore…and this is but a sample of Singapore’s educational pulse.

While a number of the universities listed above are involved in exchange of faculty, specific course design and curriculum development, the Yale NUS joint venture will be a brand new university, anchored in Singapore, with  BS and BA degrees across, initially, 14 majors, awarded by NUS, yet with the full resources of the Yale Alumni available to all graduates. The government of Singapore, through NUS, is financing the entire program, which includes building a separate campus with three residential colleges. Each college will have its own dining, student facilities, quads, and rector, who will live among the students (all modeled upon Yale’s residential college system). Classrooms will be integrated into the residential colleges as well.

The cost for an international student to attend is 15,000 Singapore dollars per semester (about $12,000 US) and all students accepted will receive 50% scholarship for room and board which reduces room and board to $1,400 US per semester. Double the sum for the school year, and the total cost is well under US $30,000, which is competitive with the costs of many UC campuses (though flying half way around the world might add a bit to the calculation).   

Naturally, not all parties on the Yale side are happy about the coming premiere of Yale NUS. The joint venture with NUS was initiated by two members of the Yale Corporation (which is the governing body of Yale chaired by the President of Yale, a board of trustees, the governor of Connecticut, and alumni fellows who serve staggered 6-year terms) who were advisors on the Government of Singapore’s investment portfolio. The chief faculty critic, Seyla Benhabib, a political science professor, put the position of Yale’s faculty in very blunt terms: “Leaving aside this venture’s naïve missionary sentiment, one must ask: Do we need to go to Singapore to advance … a revival of the liberal arts?” (“What’s at Stake at Yale-NUS”, Yale Daily News, 4 April 2012) After which a resolution was passed by the faculty calling into question issues of civil and political rights within the state of Singapore (and the fact that the faculty will be involved with curriculum development and staffing—without having any voice in the decision.) This provoked President Levine of Yale to comment that the tone of Ms. Benhabib’s resolution “carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming.”

The launch of the Yale-NUS College is coming with its own brand of fireworks—adding just a splash of hot chili sauce to Yale’s Singapore Sling.