Yale University is set to open a college in Singapore, the first foreign outpost in its 312-year history, bringing an elite brand to a country that has seen other U.S. universities come and go.
The inaugural class of 157 students at Yale-NUS starts this month at the campus, jointly run with the National University of Singapore, after a summer orientation in New Haven, Connecticut.
Yale-NUS is betting its liberal arts mission, endowment and local support will help it succeed where others haven’t. It is bringing a wide curriculum to an education system where students typically focus on one area of study. The University of Chicago, New York University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which plan to exit or reduce their presence in Singapore, offer industry-specific programs. Their departures aren’t setting off alarms among members of Yale-NUS’s faculty advisory committee.
“The others didn’t have the long-term commitments of support that Yale-NUS College has,” said Marvin Chun, a leader of the committee, said in an e-mail. “There may be bumps in the road” ahead and Yale will work through them, he said.
While Yale hasn’t disclosed terms of its deal with NUS, the campus is being fully supported financially by the Singapore Education Ministry and an endowment, according to a May faculty report. Including donations from foundations and gifts, the fund has grown to almost $250 million, spokeswoman Moon Shin Ho said.
Singapore “made generous investments to establish the college and to build its academic program and construct a new campus,” Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said in an e-mail.
NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which opened in Singapore in 2007 offering a Masters of Fine Arts degree, will shut down after the class of 2015 graduates because of low enrollment and rising expenses.
“We did not meet enrollment targets,” Shonna Keogan, a spokeswoman for the school, said in an interview. “Then, there was not as much support from the government forthcoming and that created a problem in sustaining the campus.”
Enlisting qualified students hasn’t been an issue for Yale-NUS. The college received 11,400 applications for the incoming class, making it highly selective. Leveraging on the “high caliber of the applicant pool,” the school aims to enroll 250 students in the next few years, Lewis said.
Students “turned down offers from Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and all seven other Ivy League universities to attend,” said Chun, who is also a psychology professor.
Some foreign colleges are well-ensconced in Singapore and have no plans to leave, including Duke University, which runs a medical school there with NUS, and French business school Insead.
Ben Wildavsky, a senior scholar in Washington for the Kauffman Foundation, doesn’t doubt that Yale’s brand prestige will attract tuition money for Singapore’s government.
“Financially, it’s not an issue. If they expect Yale to be self-supporting in 10 years, depending on the market, it’s a possibility,” Wildavsky, a Yale graduate, said in a phone interview.
Even so, the government may not continue its investments if Yale’s liberal-arts mission doesn’t pay off in terms of tuition revenue, said Jason Lane, associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Albany. Even if Singapore continues its support indefinitely, the subsidized model can lead to a lack of commitment on the part of the parent college to the local market, Lane said.
“I always question the sustainability of highly subsidized branch campuses because they aren’t incentivized,” Lane said.
Dependency on government revenue can translate to a lack of motivation to boost enrollment and program standards, he said.
Some schools have “decided to look for greener pastures,” Lane said.
The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business looked north toward China. After 13 years in Singapore, Booth said last month it will relocate its executive MBA program to Hong Kong. The proximity to China “is particularly attractive,” Booth Dean Sunil Kumar said in a statement.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is considering Macau, said Richard Linstrom, associate dean for the Singapore campus, in an e-mail. China’s special administrative region is the world’s biggest gambling hub. The school plans to relocate after failing to agree on financial terms to renew a contract with its partner school in Singapore.
UNLV’s focus “is on locations where there is interest in our differentiating expertise in gaming and integrated resorts, and where there would be support for our efforts,” Linstrom said.
Singapore and the Persian Gulf are attractive to foreign universities because of their wealthy student populations. Yet, property prices and operational expenses are high.
“Various venues in China strike me as economically more stable,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington. “Singapore is one of the most expensive places on Earth to just get a footprint. The cost structure works against it.”
Government subsidies also mean yielding some control. Surrendering decisions to a regime such as in Singapore could damage Yale’s brand, Wildavsky said. He and Nassirian said the government hasn’t shown an adaptability to free thinking, a concern of Yale faculty members and alumni.
Singapore restricts public speech, censors the media and criminalizes homosexual acts, according to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nonprofit organization.
“Why not a democracy for goodness sakes?” said Yale Professor Christopher Miller, who opposed the Singapore expansion plan. “Why a place ranked so abysmally low on human rights measures?”
There are risks for the students in the pioneer class, who will help create the Singapore school’s public identity, said Joanna Lee, a 19-year-old Singaporean who opted to attend Columbia University in New York with no scholarship over a free ride to Yale-NUS.
There is still confusion about the difference between the college -- which will confer degrees that include Yale’s name but aren’t Yale University diplomas -- and the “real” Yale, Lee said. Yale-NUS students are eligible to join Yale’s alumni association, though as non-voting members.
“The Singaporeans are here because it’s the best option they have locally, perhaps if they didn’t get into to other international schools,” said Lee.
The cost to attend Yale as an undergraduate in Connecticut was about $55,300 in the 2012-2013 academic year, excluding books and personal expenses, according to the website. Yale-NUS has a tiered cost structure, depending on whether the student is a Singapore citizen, permanent resident or a foreigner.
Tuition, room and board for an international student is about S$52,900 ($41,513). Students who accept a Singapore government grant that requires a three-year work commitment after graduation, will have their tuition reduced by S$7,920 ($6,215) a semester.
Maria Ivanenko, an American student accepted in the first class, plans to take the grant. The 17-year-old from Lexington, Massachusetts, said she’s always been passionate about Asia and plans to study environmental science and sustainability. Since she was accepted by the school on early decision, she didn’t apply elsewhere in Asia or to any colleges in the U.S.
“I still wanted a fundamentally American education,” Ivanenko said. “So Yale-NUS was everything I wanted.”