Yale-NUS and UTown

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In a climate where the demand for a technically trained skill set appears to be growing, especially so on the international front, it may seem odd that NUS has become engaged in a liberal arts enterprise with U.S.-based Yale University known as the Yale-NUS College.


Yale-NUS is a school separate from the main NUS body, in that they have a separate deanery and admissions office; however, students from Yale-NUS will be graduating with a degree awarded by NUS. Students who apply to Yale have to indicate separately their interest in Yale-NUS as Yale-NUS also functions as an affiliated, but stand-alone college, to Yale University in New Haven.


Billed as the first liberal arts college in Singapore, Yale-NUS is headed by Pericles Lewis, formerly Professor of English and comparative literature at Yale University, and now President and founding member of Yale-NUS College. The approximately 50-strong faculty at Yale-NUS, expected to grow to a 100, will be supplemented by faculty from Yale who arrive at Yale-NUS for a two-week to semester-long teaching visitation.


The school does not have traditional academic departments: instead, faculty belong to one of three broad divisions: science, social science, or the humanities.


Yale-NUS comes amidst a slew of NUS-overseas university partnerships such as the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.


In fact, such partnerships are reflective of the direction tertiary, and indeed secondary education is taking in Singapore – a place where Asian sensibility can be combined with Western flair to produce a hyper breed of hybrid cross-boundary, inter-cultural, multinational graduates. Yale-NUS of course though, is the first collaboration that has extended into the undergraduate curriculum, and more poised to incorporate the “inter-disciplinary” into teaching than the already specialized graduate tracks.


Consider the other relatively fresh undergraduate programs based in University Town (UTown): the more than a decade-old University Scholars Program (USP), an academic programme in NUS that opened a residential component at UTown in 2011, and the UTown Colleges: Tembusu, Cinnamon and College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT). They all boast a multi-inter-disciplinary educational framework. Ambitious as each school’s objectives sound, these colleges already have something concrete to show for themselves.


USP had an open, albeit poorly publicized paper conference in early September, which featured, amongst other things, a paper on Laotian land politics, increasing urban food waste recycling in Singapore and the resurgence of gene therapy. The three day conference featured papers that touched on biology, sociology, literature, art and politics, amongst others. Shreyas Rao and Pek Yang Xuan had what seemed like the few engineering projects on display, alongside Muhd Nadjad’s project on lixiviant metabolic engineering from bacteria. Perhaps of most interest to the general student population would be Samdish Suri’s ‘The Causes of Gendered Behaviour in Humans”, in which he explores via literature review a variety of scientific theories that have been “advanced to explain why men and women exhibit seemingly different behaviours”. Written during his exchange programme at the Pennsylvania State University for an anthropology class called ‘Our Place in Nature’, Samdish was motivated to investigate the essentialist views that men and women are “hard-wired” in a certain way, which have become “astonishingly” more “ubiquitous” in pop culture of late.


While it is great that there is such an emphasis on academic development, and the student industry to create a platform for presentation; there are some things that could be improved on. For instance, given its inter-disciplinary nature, would the Confluence event not have been better served had it been attended by more students? Better publicity on the part of the team to the wider NUS community could have helped with attendance and participation at large.


It’s fascinating that Singapore, and our university, has such a vibrant and increasingly varied education landscape. The sprouting of these facilities and schools provides incoming students with a platter of options from which to design their tertiary life. Whether it is a traditional fun-filled, freewheeling life in the halls, a low-key study life in the residences, or a structured college life in University Town – there are many options available for students.


We would however entreat these newer programmes, especially Yale-NUS which has only just begun to find its footing, to think more about how to contribute to student life at large: halls have their rag-and-flag extravaganzas, concerts, and donation drives. Internally they have inter-hall games. It would be nice for the UTown colleges to add their own flavour to student life which showcases the unique qualities of their programmes, not a repetition of services already provided by the halls.In particular, the scholastic output of these new initiatives such as their emphasis on inter-disciplinary education, would give the larger community an added dimension.

We don’t really need to see yet another blood donation drive.


Yale-NUS has much to prove, not only because of the sheer amount of resources that have been poured into the programme, but also because of its stand-alone nature: self-contained and separate from its mothering institutions and yet bearing both their names. Not only do they have to look outwardly to the global stage – they will also have to establish themselves inside the NUS community – showing what they can do with and amongst other students within the NUS space.


If UTown colleges do not step out of the comfort zone of their dormitories, or aim to target students out of the boundaries of their own social enclaves, the university runs a risk of an unseen, but heavy fog of elitism descending on the young University Town campus. The newness of its facilities, higher residence fees, and presence of lifestyle bookshops and niche eateries contribute to the perceived ‘atas-ness’ (poshness) of the UTown premise. It is all too easy to couple this perception with a perceived sense of entitlement from UTown residents,fairly or not. In general, we would like to see more campus-wide events being held at UTown, so that students realize it is a facility for all to enjoy. Better advertising of events on the part of the individual colleges to the campus-wide majority would help to counter any nascent perception of exclusivity that may shroud UTown. We wish them and the university at large all the very best, and look forward to many years of interdisciplinary partnership and growth, both on, off and between the various campuses of NUS.

Samantha Wong
Samantha is a Computer Science major at NUS's School of Computing. She splits her time between writing articles and not writing articles, though she does neither exclusively.