For years, the Singaporean government has been trying to coax Ivy League caliber institutions to set up campuses in the city-state to cater to local demand. Now, Singapore has finally succeeded and Yale is now welcoming its first cohort of students to their first year in college.

Yale Singapore

Yale-NUS to provide student loans

The joint Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore) liberal arts college will focus on providing local students with an American-style liberal arts degrees that encourage critical thinking. Compared to the British system used at NUS and elsewhere, an American degree places more emphasis on critical thinking, and engaging with multiple disciplines. Still, the university’s opening is being met with considerable condemnation.

While such efforts by international universities to open up local campuses have met with mixed success, interest in the Yale-NUS program has so far been strong. The first cohort will consist of 157 students, who were selected from over 10,000 applicants. Ninety-seven of the students are Singaporean with the remaining hailing from some 26 other countries.

The Yale-NUS joint venture won’t be the first international program to set up shop in Singapore. INSTEAD, one of the world’s most renowned business schools, has been running an MBA program on the island for several years. New York University offers some arts programs, and the University of Chicago offers some executive education programs. Still, the Yale-NUS initiative is the most ambitious effort. The establishment of an international liberal arts undergraduate college has long on the government’s wish list.

Singapore’s economy

Mile-per-mile, Singapore is arguably the richest non-oil state in the world. With over ten percent of the country’s citizens millionaires and a per capita income of over 46,000 USD, Singapore has enjoyed decades of strong economic growth. The country also features some of the world’s best education, health care, public transit, and other systems. As such, it should come as no surprise that the government has been looking to continuously upgrade the local higher education system.

Still, this economic growth has come at the cost of many personal freedoms, and in recent years discontent has risen in the city-state. While the government has taken measures to respond to criticisms, it has also moved to crack down on discontent by restricting free speech on the internet and elsewhere. This comes at a time with the People’s Action party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, is suffering from its lowest approval ratings in history.

Many intellectuals inside and outside of Yale believe that it is morally wrong to open up a school in a city-state that so heavily restricts free speech. At the center of the criticisms are Singaporean government policies that prohibit students from engaging in protests on campus and engaging in political activities in general. According to many Yale professors, opening a university in such an environment is counter to the mission, aim, and spirit of Yale University.

Yale faculty passed a resolution

Indeed, in 2012 the Yale faculty passed a resolution stating concern over the lack of freedom and wide-spread censorship on the island. The resolution called for Yale to stick to its morals and work to uphold free speech and political expression. Given how heavy handed the Singaporean government has been on such issues in the past, this is likely a non-starter.

Singapore also heavily censors other media outlets. International news and local websites were informed early this year that the government will be ramping up censorship. Specifically, websites will be required to remove any content the government finds controversial or detrimental to “public interests” within 28 hours of being posted. This move was widely condemned by international websites, such as Yahoo!

Many pundits are now rightly wondering if the Yale-NUS initiative will become a bright spot, or a sore spot for discontent and criticism. As Singapore’s population grows more wealthy, they will also make increasing demands and want to enjoy more freedoms. The rights for students to protests and engage in political activity may soon become a major point of tension in Singapore, and the Yale-NUS campus could become the biggest focus of discontent.