Replacing A/P George at Nanyang Technological University?

9378013Like many social scientists with ties and genuine affection for Singapore, I was shocked when I heard Nanyang Technological University (NTU) recently denied tenure to Dr. Cherian George (pictured to the right). See here for a Storify-based compilation of stories about this ongoing debacle, and here for a 1 March University World News story. Keep in mind this is the second time he was denied tenure – the first occurred in 2009.

Cherian George has a truly rare capacity to shed light on the nature of state-society-economy relations in Southeast Asia (especially Singapore and Malaysia) via an analysis of media systems and practices. He is also a public intellectual, with an ability to write in a fashion free from the jargon all too often associated with media studies worlds.

I first heard about Cherian George’s work when I worked in Singapore in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then every year after, usually via colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who work in the media and communications fields. While I’ve never met him I can state, with confidence, he would have been tenured here at UW-Madison. Indeed, given his record and in demand areas of expertise matched with actual experience as a journalist, he’d most likely be a tenured full Professor by now. But there you go – the powers that be who govern NTU have decided to send George on his way.

Rather than speculate as to why NTU, led by President Bertil Andersson (a Swedish national, and former Chief Executive of the European Science Foundation, 2004-2007) and Provost Freddy Boey, chose to sanction this decision, I decided to think laterally and pondered what a position description for a replacement hire in George’s areas of expertise would be like. It’s worth reflecting on the value of having a non-expatriate professor with these capabilities in a school of communication and information, and in a university that seeks to support the media sector in a city-state that ostensibly desires to become a ‘vibrant and robust’ media hub.



Media Politics: Following the denial of tenure to Dr. Cherian George (who has a PhD in Communication from Stanford University, a Masters from Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and a BA in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University), we are looking for an even more innovative, collaborative, and forward-thinking teacher-scholar who is interdisciplinary inclined. The successful candidate should have a PhD with an active research agenda, and teaching and advising experience. Preference will be given to candidates who study the diverse politics of the media, including the norms and practices of journalism in Singapore and Southeast Asia more broadly; the sociocultural dimensions of the production, circulation and consumption of various forms of media; the formal and informal regulation of the media; and the nature of ‘alternative’ media vis a vis emerging social media platforms such as weblogs, Twitter, and so on. We are particularly interested in candidates who have deep regional expertise combined with international perspectives. It is also important that all candidates have 5-10 years of journalism experience in the media industry. The candidate needs to understand and be able to teach about the complex forces and diverse perspectives shaping debates in Singapore and Southeast Asia about issues like censorship, ‘intolerant’ speech, ‘free’ speech, and the nature of state influence on media systems. The candidate should committed to enhancing the role of NTU as a place where faculty are “excited about ideas,” where “risk taking” and “breaking conventional mindsets” is the new norm, and where faculty increasingly need to encourage students to “ask questions” so as to inculcate more creative and agile mindsets.


Those leading NTU (such as President Bertil Andersson) have stated that they have a “responsibility to Singaporean society.”  It might be worth asking President Andersson if students at a “leading institution of higher education in the Asia-Pacific region” need to know about the phenomenon of media politics. And if so, who could realistically fill Dr. Cherian George’s shoes?

Kris Olds

Heavy Lifting vs Spectral Presence in Global Higher Ed

As I shuffled through the morning paper today, supping a much needed cup of coffee, I came across a story about the innovative architect Thom Mayne (of Morphosis) being selected to design the first building of Cornell University’s Applied Sciences NYC campus. This unique development initiative, outlined in detail here (‘Unsettling the university-territory relationship via Applied Sciences NYC’), is rolling forward with considerable speed.

Since Cornell (with Israel’s Technion) won the competition in December 2011, a Cornell/Technion leadership team was appointed in February 2012, and Andrew C. Winters (formerly of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office) was appointed to “lead the physical development process.”

Taken together, the involvement of a skilled and high-powered leadership team from both Cornell & Technion, along with a NY power broker (Winters), and highly qualified designers like Morphis as well as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (for the master plan), imply that this project is serious business.

CornellNYC Tech, “home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute,” is really just the start of a broader development agenda, which includes the right to bring in other partner universities (and indeed non-university actors) from the US and abroad to their Roosevelt Island campus.

What is interesting about this project, in comparison to one associated with another Ivy League school (Yale, which is working with the National University of Singapore to develop Yale-NUS College), is that the Cornell-led development process reflects a significantly deeper level of commitment to being grounded in the host city of the new campus. What do I mean by being ‘grounded’ and why might it matter?

Being grounded means establishing commercial, legal, material (including human), and discursive presence in the host city. It means being present such that one is entangled in the regulatory, socio-cultural, physical, political, and institutional landscape of the city. It is a form of presence that leads to being drawn upon, and drawing upon, others also present in that city. It means being knitted into development processes where traded and untraded interdependencies (that “take the form of conventions, informal rules, and habits that coordinate economic actors under conditions of uncertainty”) help bring the city-region development process to life.

In the Cornell process, their mission and objectives have led them to control and be fully responsible for all stages (apart from coordinating the bid and review process, which was guided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation) of the development process including:

  • The campus planning and design process
  • The physical development process
  • The research-led knowledge production process
  • The teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

The process of publicly bidding to develop Applied Sciences NYC (see my summary of the bid process here), then getting deeply involved in campus and building design process, the actual development process, and academic planning for the complex, effectively sutures Cornell’s identity, and its future, to the global city of New York.

Given this stance to the development process, a large number of Cornell and Technion faculty and administrators will be present in NYC, which will lead them to form deep social relations with key actors in the city. Some of these social relations will be sought out, though many will be accidental, subject to the unruly laws of serendipity in the metropolis. Physical co-presence matters to the socio-economic development process in cities, and the lead university (Cornell) behind Applied Sciences NYC seems to recognize this, as did Technion and Mayor Bloomberg.

In the Yale-NUS College case, Yale’s mission and objectives have led them to gift their brand (‘Yale’) for a fee, while providing input to a NUS-controlled:

  • Campus planning and design process
  • Physical development process
  • Teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

Of course the newly hired faculty will have business cards that say ‘Yale-NUS College’ on them, and promotional materials flag the Yale name everywhere (a point made in this insightful article by Karin Fischer), but this is really a Singaporean project. Two proxy measures of this are that (a) that the newly hired faculty will receive Singaporean contracts, and (b) graduates only receive a degree from the National University of Singapore (not even a dual degree, a now common option in global higher ed). Of course a few administrators will be seconded from Yale, but they will inevitably retain their tenured jobs back in New Haven, CT.

Yale is thus the equivalent of Wharton when it helped provide much of the intellectual and organizational guidance to develop Singapore Management University (est. 2000), except for the fact that Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania did not sell the Wharton/Penn brand, nor did they play up their role in the SMU development process.

There are pros and cons to each model, of course, but I can’t help but wonder what the direct and indirect implications will be of Cornell’s higher level of material and non-material commitment to their new global city venture versus that being undertaken by Yale (at least in a spectral sense) in its newly adopted global city. Being present while being absent provides some latitude of freedom to reduce risk, and cost, but as INSEAD’s presence in Singapore demonstrates, and as Cornell and Technion’s presence in New York indicates, there are a myriad of rewards to being present – to be seen to be contributing, to be seen to be sharing the costs, to being on the ground, and to be demonstrating a medium- to long-term level of confidence in risky experiments in global higher education/global city development.

Kris Olds

Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?

Editor’s note: one of the more interesting aspects of the globalization of higher education is the emergence of new universities (e.g., Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, KAUST), as well as some experiments in the establishment of 21st century liberal arts colleges (LACs); LACs that both reflect, and simultaneously attempt to shape, currents of thoughts about the future of global higher education.  For example, I recall, very clearly, the contested emergence of Quest University Canada in a local context relatively hostile to private higher education institutions (HEIs), even HEIs that are (as Quest is) non-profit and genuinely student centered. More recently, Amsterdam University College (est. 2009) was established in the context of experiments in higher education reform in the Netherlands, as well as in the Amsterdam city-region. By most accounts Amsterdam University College (AUC) has been an early success re. enhanced student learning outcomes, while uniquely reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of Amsterdam. We’ve also seen the establishment of branch campuses such as NYU Abu Dhabi, similar to AUC in some ways, but reflective of more geographically diverse currents of thoughts, resources, ideologies, and institutional impulses. The same goes with respect to Yale-NUS College, currently in the development phase on the edges of the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.

One of the important aspects of the development of higher education institutions such as NYU Abu Dhabi, Duke Kunshan University, and Yale-NUS College, is that they are branded and usually shaped by an established elite university, but they require state largesse (from the host city/nation-state) to exist. These are spectacular initiatives, in some ways, but in so requiring state largesse, including from non-liberal (often authoritarian) political regimes, they require the assemblage of elements of geographically separate institutional infrastructures, curricula, brands, modi operandi, etc.  In the context of bringing all of these material and non-material aspects of the development process together, all sorts of debates can emerge for the articulation process is never easy. Moreover, the typical planning process is relatively complicated, with different agendas, assumptions as to what a ‘non-negotiable’ is, and variable temporal expectations regarding desired outcomes. Add some intra-institutional dynamics into the mix, including different understandings of the governance pathways that should be utilized for these often high risk endeavors, not to mention variable senses of the value of transparency when governing, and some intense debates are sure to emerge!

Dr. Michael Montesano’s guest entry below (‘Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?’), also available in PDF format, needs to be situated in the context of deliberations about the nature of the formal and informal governance pathways that are utilized for high risk global higher ed initiatives. Dr. Michael Montesano is a long-time resident of Singapore, a Southeast Asia specialist, and a member of the Yale College Class of 1983. He taught in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the National University of Singapore from 1999-2008 and was an inaugural recipient of the NUS Alumni Advisory Board’s Inspiring Mentor Award (in 2009).

Kris Olds


Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?

by Dr. Michael Montesano (3 April 2012)

Yale University’s approach to its partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to establish an undergraduate liberal arts college in the country is flawed and ill-conceived in ways that call into question Yale’s ability to be a responsible long-term partner for Singapore and its national university.  Yale’s current leadership has pursued the project in so personalistic a fashion as to build no solid institutional foundation for it at Yale.  That leadership continues to demonstrate no effective understanding of Singapore, even as it has alienated the distinguished specialists on Southeast Asia on Yale’s faculty who could offer guidance.  That leadership appears to censor itself and to pursue a wider regime of self-censorship at Yale in matters relating to the proposed Yale-NUS college.  This regime cannot last; the dissatisfaction that it arouses will come to undermine Yale’s ability to serve as NUS’s partner.  Efforts on the part of Yale’s leadership to address concerns at Yale about academic freedom in Singapore have remained vague and evasive.  That leadership has never explained clearly the role of a “national university” in a “late”-developing country like Singapore or the instrumental nature of academic freedom at such a university.  Other aspects of that role suggest additional challenges that an effective partnership between Yale and NUS will face.  The proposed partnership between Singapore and NUS has now caused a deep, bitter crisis of governance at Yale.  The university now faces two choices: to withdraw from its partnership with NUS or radically to restructure its plans for participation in the proposed Yale-NUS college in Singapore.

I. A poorly informed, reckless, and “sultanistic” commitment.

Last August, during one of the current Yale president’s eerily McNamara-esque flying visits from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States to a Southeast Asian country of whose history and day-to-day life he lacks all comprehension, I attended a reception in his honor for Yale alumni living in Singapore.   The event began with some informal remarks from the president, heralding the great promise of the liberal arts college that Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) government had hired Yale to help create on the Kent Ridge campus of the National University of Singapore. Early in those remarks, the president noted his regret that some of what had been said about this plan in New Haven might have caused “embarrassment” in Singapore.  With breezy contempt, he indicated that criticism of the plan reflected the views of only a small minority at Yale and that newspapers and their coverage need not be taken too seriously.

Already opposed to the plan for a “Yale-NUS College,” I nevertheless found in these remarks two further causes for real concern about the scheme.

First, I asked myself, did Yale’s president really understand Singapore so poorly as not to know that its PAP government has long brushed aside comments from weak and woolly Western liberals on all but two or three very specific aspects of its system of government?  Could he really think that anyone in authority in Singapore had been embarrassed by the rather predictable criticisms voiced by members of the Yale faculty or printed in The Yale Daily News?

Second, I had to wonder, could Yale’s president, travelling with a number of members of the Yale faculty, honestly believe that his sneering reference to a free press would not get back to New Haven?  Did he not understand that, when it did, his offer to enlist Yale as one more regiment of educational Hessians in the service of the PAP government would only face even sharper criticism?

NUS and the Singapore government had, I then realized, had the bad luck to tie themselves to a partner who was both exceedingly poorly informed and terribly reckless.

But the evening only grew more worrying.  As Yale’s vice-president-cum-University-Secretary and I spoke by the buffet table some twenty minutes after the president finished his remarks, he walked over, and the vice president took the opportunity to introduce us.  I told Yale’s president that I believed that his failure, as in his remarks that evening, to articulate any understanding of the Singaporean and Southeast Asian contexts in which Yale would help found this new college meant that what he said about the college and its promise to bring liberal arts education to “Asia” had no credibility.  He replied, as the vice president listened, that having and articulating such an understanding were not his job.  To my comment that he was in that case in way over his head in Singapore, he told me to “come back in five years” and see what the new college would by then have accomplished.  My reply, one that mirrored the sentiments of various senior members of the Yale faculty with whom I had spoken over the course of the preceding year, was that it was likely to be a pretty mediocre operation.  Now the president grew openly angry.  Snarling that he had been involved in many undertakings in his life and that not one had been mediocre, he abruptly turned his back on me and strode off.

Unpleasant as this brutal display of  the Yale president’s self-regard was, it was also quite useful.  For it alerted me to a third cause for concern about the planned Yale-NUS college.  Yale’s current president clearly had so much of his ego tied up in the scheme that he was beyond having a serious, rational discussion about it with an informed critic.  And, having served in his post since 1993, he could only be considered a short-timer.  How could NUS and Singapore possibly count on Yale’s next president to share its incumbent president’s commitment to the new college, when that commitment had such an unmistakably personal rather than institutional nature?  Perhaps Yale’s Singaporean partners ought to bone up on the eminent Yale political scientist and sociologist Juan J. Linz’s work on “sultanism” as they prepare to treat further with Yale and its current president.  Perhaps, too, they ought to contemplate Professor Linz’s theorizing on the aftermath of the demise of “sultanistic regimes” and its implications for the future of the Yale-NUS college.

II. Singapore: In Southeast Asia, or just  “Asia”?

In September 2010, when Yale first formally announced that it was exploring the establishment of a liberal arts college at NUS, the Yale Office of International Affairs issued a five-page document entitled, “Yale and Singapore: Other Projects and Facts.”   In addition to listing internships, the number of Yale alumni in Singapore and of Singaporeans at Yale, workshops, summer courses, and various other connections between Yale and Singapore, the document noted that “Yale established its Southeast Asia Studies Program in 1947 – the first area studies program in the United States to embark on the study of Southeast Asia in all disciplines.”    Today, that program takes the form of a Council on Southeast Asia Studies, bringing together faculty from a range of departments.

Among the half-dozen most important Southeast Asianists to teach at Yale in the past sixty-five years was a Sudetenland-born Jew whose family saved him from the Holocaust by securing him a post in the Netherlands East Indies, today’s Indonesia, in 1939.  Following internment on Java by the Japanese, arrival in New Zealand as a refugee, and a Cornell doctorate, Harry J. Benda joined Yale’s history department in 1959.  Professor Benda died, too young, in 1971.  His journal articles, collected in a Yale Southeast Asia Studies publication by the late, great Yale historian Robin Winks, remain to this day influential in shaping understandings of the interplay of past and present in this region.

And, while the staff of the Yale Office of International Affairs seems to have been unaware of it when they compiled the September 2010 document, it was in the career of Professor Benda that the most significant previous academic connection between Yale and Singapore came.  In 1968 the father of the Singaporean technocracy, Dr Goh Keng Swee, selected Professor Benda to serve as the inaugural director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) while on leave from Yale for a year. At the time of its foundation, ISEAS embodied then newly independent Singapore’s realization of the need to understand its neighbors.  Dr Goh’s appointment of Professor Benda, his confidence in Professor Benda’s suitability for the post, was no casual matter; little about the PAP state’s approach to government or institution-building is ever a casual matter.

Today, Harry J. Benda’s portrait hangs in a place of honor in the ISEAS library, in the Institute’s building adjacent to NUS’s Kent Ridge campus.  The Association for Asian Studies annually presents a prize named in Benda’s memory for the best “first book” on Southeast Asia.[1]  But neither Yale’s current president nor any of those at Yale willing to work with him in creating the Yale-NUS college would appear ever to have publicly alluded to his place in Yale’s history of academic relations with Singapore or to his relationship with Dr Goh, yet alone cited his invaluable work or durable insights on Southeast Asia, even as they plunge into a long-term involvement with this region.

Neither is it the case that Yale’s leadership show any sign of drawing instead on the work of other serious scholars of Southeast Asia in an effort to understand Singapore and its region.  Instead, as in a now notorious episode, Yale’s president has displayed more familiarity with the much advertised Singapore Airlines than with scholarship that might help him understand in an intellectually credible way the historical, social, political, and economic contexts in which the Yale-NUS college will operate.[2]

At times, in fact, it has seemed that Yale’s leadership remains in denial of the reality that Singapore is in fact in Southeast Asia.  Yale’s president appears to conceive of a place called “Asia,” to which he will deliver the blessings of a liberal arts education in the form of a college sited in Singapore.  Scholars in attendance at the Yale-NUS college reception during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago this past January cringed as Yale’s president witnessed his missionary impulse to bring education to this “Asia,” as he slighted the calibre of NUS’s extant offerings in the humanities and social sciences and its University Scholars Programme honors program, and as he repeatedly invoked “Asians.”  One of those present e-mailed me to say that it all sounded like something out of Kipling, that Yale’s president could not possibly appreciate how foolish he sounded to the Asianists in the room, Singaporean and non-Singaporean alike.

Can NUS and Yale’s new employers in the PAP government possibly deem reliable a partner that, so many months into their partnership, remained both so uncomprehending and so uninterested in their country and its region?  Hard to imagine.  But the situation is still worse.  For, in addition to this lack of comprehension and interest, one must note the alienation from the Yale administration’s decision to sell Yale’s services to Singapore of the members of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies, of the Yale faculty who have actually devoted their lives to understanding the region and might bring their understanding to a Yale initiative in Southeast Asia.

Last August, Yale and NUS convened in New Haven a curriculum-planning event.  NUS’s president and vice-chancellor Tan Chorh Chuan attended, along with Yale’s president.  So did Southeast Asianists from Cornell and Berkeley, but not from Yale.  It is impossible to know whether President Tan remembered Yale’s boast of eleven months before about its legacy of and strength in the study of Southeast Asia and thus wondered why his new partners could not produce Yale’s Southeast Asianists at this event.  In fact, the members of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies only learned about the event afterward.  Their participation would have introduced a decidedly unwelcome element of dissent into the event.  But Singapore has a duty to ask itself, how dependable a partner can Yale be, if its leadership cannot count on the assistance of the members of its faculty best prepared to guide it as it seeks to navigate the region?

III.  The rot of self-censorship.

Liberally inclined Singaporeans have long viewed self-censorship as the scourge of the political system that has resulted from uninterrupted PAP rule since before their country’s independence in 1965.  Willingly or not, most Singaporeans and many foreigners resident in Singapore rely on internalized self-censorship as they go about their daily lives.  This is a choice that they make.  It is also a reality that may change as the history of this country unfolds.

As the Yale president’s remarks on the press here last August suggest, however, the real concern raised by Yale’s engagement with the PAP government and with NUS involves self-censorship at Yale rather than in Singapore.

In fact, a Yale news release of May 2011 led many Yale alumni in Singapore—both Americans and Singaporeans—to conclude that Yale was already practicing artful self-censorship.[3]  The release announced that a member of the Yale College Class of 1980, Charles W. (“Chip”) Goodyear, would join the governing Yale Corporation as a Successor Trustee.  It detailed Mr Goodyear’s record of generous and meaningful support for Yale and his career in finance and mining.  It omitted, however, any mention of Mr Goodyear’s relationship with Singapore.  In early 2009 it was announced with great fanfare here that Mr Goodyear had been named CEO-Designate of Temasek Holdings, one of the PAP government’s two well endowed sovereign wealth funds.  He was due to take the reins at Temasek in October of that year.  In July 2009, however, it was announced that an inability to agree on questions of corporate strategy had led Temasek and Mr Goodyear to the mutual decision to call this plan off and to part ways.  The scale and prominence of Temasek meant that, in Singaporean, Asian, and indeed global financial circles, this was big news.  It represented an undeniable loss of face for the PAP government, which has long taken pride in succession planning.  And the omission of any mention of Mr Goodyear’s brief employment with Temasek in Yale’s May 2011 release led alumni here to chuckle knowingly and to remark to one another how quickly Yale’s leadership had assimilated Singaporean norms of self-censorship.

Today, faculty at Yale report nervousness in the ranks about opposing plans for the Yale-NUS college openly, for fear of retribution.  When, a year ago, I raised my own objection with one of Yale’s recent “star hires” in the social sciences, he told me curtly that all to whom he had spoken had told him that this was a train that had already left the station.  Translation: he was not commenting, and our conversation should move on to another topic.

Yale undergraduates have not been spared the pressure to censor themselves either.  On one occasion in early 2011, Yale’s president placed a call to The Yale Daily News to advise the author of an op-ed piece critical of his plans for Singapore to consider other perspectives on those plans in the future.

The problem, of course, is that the routinization at Yale of self-censorship on matters relating to Singapore will require substantial disruption of the intellectual life of the university.  Over time, Yale faculty and students will find the need to censor themselves when writing of Singapore or of the Yale-NUS college impossible to abide.  And there is another angle to all this, for, in its zeal to pursue its own version of the internationalization of the university, Yale’s current leadership overlooks just how “international” Yale’s intellectual life has long been.  Recent developments in Singapore and their relationship to Yale are illustrative.

Singapore held polls for the country’s largely ceremonial presidency last August.  In the course of the unusually heated campaign, there was discussion of the arrest of more than twenty social activists and labor organizers, including many affiliated with the Catholic Church, in 1987 under the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA).  Typically referred to, following the PAP government’s description of it, as “the Marxist conspiracy” but also sometimes called, following apparent Internal Security Department nomenclature, “Operation Spectrum,” this episode is not often talked about in Singapore.  But it remains controversial, and its impact on the Church here has been profound.  Until the recent publication of the detention memoir of the now retired lawyer Teo Soh Lung, perhaps the most important book on the episode was Francis Seow’s To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison, published in 1994 in Yale’s own Southeast Asia publications series.  The question that must be asked is whether, if in future such a manuscript comes to Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies, its leadership will either feel obliged to or come under subtle pressure to decline to publish it, in order not to cause Singapore “embarrassment.”  A pair of indicators suggest that such an outcome is not so far-fetched as it might appear.

First, just before Thanksgiving 2010, I contacted Yale’s much admired and loved Catholic chaplain, the head of the university’s long influential St Thomas More Catholic Center, by phone.  My purpose was to suggest that, sooner or later in Yale’s relationship with NUS, Operation Spectrum and its difficult legacy would come to the attention of Yale Catholics and that it would be good to expose the community to it first.  The chaplain listened to me carefully.  He even asked whether Vincent Cheng, the seminarian-turned-social-worker who became the most high-profile detainee in the operation, was able to travel.[4] I followed up by sending further information to the chaplain.  But—puzzlingly? troublingly?—I heard no more from him until I contacted him a year later.  At that time, following a brief response to an e-mail message, he again went silent. More recently, another Singaporean former seminarian who worked as a labor organizer here before deciding that it was best to leave the country reached out to the same Yale chaplain.  He never heard back either.  And it would seem that most Yale Catholics remain unaware of “the Marxist conspiracy” in Singapore.

Second, and chillingly, in early 2006 Yale’s current president caved in to pressure from the government of Thailand to allow representatives of the Thai monarchy, whose supporters would just months later mount a coup d’état in Bangkok, pre-publication review (just “for accuracy,” but they always say that, don’t they?) of a biography of the Thai king already in the process of publication by Yale University Press.[5] While the late Yale law professor Alexander Bickel turned over in his grave, publication of the book was thus delayed long enough so that the world’s media had no access to it as they reported on the gala celebrations marking sixty years of the king’s reign in June 2006.  This episode leaves little doubt about the impact, on Yale itself, of the current Yale president’s weak commitment to academic freedom where Southeast Asia is concerned.   Its implications for Yale scholarship relating to Singapore are clear and ominous.  After all, Yale was not even employed by the government of Thailand when the episode occurred.

That this Thai episode elicited so little protest from Yale faculty was hard to understand.  Nonetheless, it was in itself a one-time event.  Should such episodes, or even the suspicion of them, become routine in matters concerning Singapore, however, the resultant regime of self-censorship in New Haven would surely prove unsustainable.  It would poison both the relations of many of Yale’s humanists and social scientists with Yale’s leadership and the intellectual climate at the university.  It would thus also undercut the ability of Yale, especially under the leadership of future Yale presidents, to serve as an effective partner of the PAP government and NUS.

There are two deep ironies here.  The first is that, as I noted at the outset, Singapore’s PAP government pays no heed to most criticisms levelled against it, whether by scholars at Singaporean or foreign institutions.  It has long since concluded that only criticism of very particular kinds can do it damage.  And it simply does not take most scholars in the humanities and social sciences seriously in any case; too many of them are liberals.  Second, Singapore’s regime of self-censorship is enforced through unspecified “OB markers” (with “OB” meaning “out of bounds”).  Never knowing how far one can safely go in expressing oneself, Singaporeans learn to remain carefully short of where they think the line might be.  They thus avoid even criticisms for which they would face no retribution.  Yale’s president and others at the university seem very quickly to have learned the same behaviour.

IV.  Not how Singapore is different, but why it is.

Yale’s current leadership has been maddeningly, even irresponsibly, vague in the case that it has made for both the merits of “a new model of residentially-based liberal education to serve all of Asia” (as Yale’s president and provost put it in their September 2010 “Prospectus for a Liberal Arts College in Singapore”—a college that will, incidentally, enrol mostly Singaporeans) and for the merits of selling Yale’s services to the PAP government.  And it has also been difficult for many at Yale—troubled by this vagueness but far away from Singapore, unfamiliar with its history and politics, and lacking workaday experience of its universities—to translate a general, justified, and deep sense of unease about this undertaking into specific and effective criticism.  They have focused on concern over the degree of academic freedom that faculty and students at the Yale-NUS college will enjoy.  But they have thus overlooked a more fundamental issue, an issue that casts serious doubt on the sustainability of any partnership between Yale on the one side and the PAP government and NUS on the other.

In 1994, Foreign Affairs published what has become a famous interview with Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, conducted by Fareed Zakaria.  A member of the Yale College Class of 1986, Dr Zakaria is now a Successor Trustee of the Yale Corporation and an influential voice in deliberations on the “internationalization” of the university.  Zakaria concludes the interview with “A Coda on Culture,” the last lines of which read,

At the close of the interview, Lee handed me three pages.  This was, he explained, to emphasize how alien Confucian culture is to the West. The pages were from the book East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, by John Fairbank, an American scholar.

“Culture”—“Confucian” or “Asian” or other—does not explain the markedly different institutional and academic context, with its very different norms, to that of New Haven, Connecticut, in which the Yale-NUS college will operate.  History and of course politics do.  But of particular value to any understanding of that context is the work of one of one of the Yale president’s fellow economists, the late Oddessa-born, Austrian-educated Harvard professor Alexander Gerschenkron.

To be an American in Singapore is to encounter a familiar exceptionalism.  Of course, neither the United States nor Singapore is as exceptional as its citizens might think.  And PAP Singapore conforms in all salient respects to some of the generalizations that Professor Gerschenkron made about “late”-developing economies and the ways in which they differed systematically from early developers—above all from the master-case of the first industrializer of them all, liberal England. Three of these generalizations have particular relevance in the present context.  First, late developers make use of “the backlog of technological innovations” that they can borrow from earlier developers.  Second, they apply “institutional instruments for which there is little or no counterpart” in earlier developers. Third, they feature a markedly different “intellectual climate.”

Professor Gerschenkron was concerned above all with industrialization.  But his generalizations apply equally to other sectors. They shed light on the entire trajectory of Singapore’s astonishing economic growth under People’s Action Party rule since 1959.  And they explain the PAP government’s general interest in and approach to the education sector and particular interest in and approach to the establishment of a liberal arts college on this island.  This point merits brief elaboration.

The Yale-NUS college has been criticized on the grounds that it is not organic to Singapore or to Asia.[6] But this criticism reveals a failure to understand how the late developer achieves rapid development, by adopting and adapting innovations and ways of doing things from earlier developers.  The PAP government’s determination to fill out its “educational portfolio” through the creation out of whole cloth of a liberal arts college here is classically Gershenkronian.  But one must understand it in the context of Professor Gershenkron’s other generalizations about late developers, too.

PAP Singapore has achieved what it has achieved through the use of institutional forms alien to liberal economic climates: the Housing and Development Board, which has built the flats in which some eighty percent of the country’s population lives; the Jurong Town Corporation, which created to turn-key facilities on this island for foreign investors in the industrial sector; the National Trades Union Congress, whose leader sits in the PAP cabinet and which functions to keep the country strike-free; the Development Bank of Singapore, which originally served to channel finance into sectors of the economy deemed crucial to national progress; a range of state firms across numerous sectors, now corporatized and called “government-linked corporations”; the People’s Action Party, a vanguard party with a small cadre membership whose secretary-general serves as prime minister; the People’s Association, devoted to the promotion of “racial harmony and social cohesion” in Singapore; Temasek Holdings and the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore, two sovereign wealth funds; and many, many other institutions that Professor Gerschenkron would have found so predictable . . . including the National University of Singapore.[7]

Professor Edwin Lee’s history of “nation-building” in Singapore devotes a number of valuable chapters to the tertiary education sector.  (Professor Lee is a former head of the NUS history department and a student of the late O. W. Wolters, yet another thinker with whose perspectives on Southeast Yale’s current leadership and those members of the Yale faculty who have joined it in advancing its Singapore plans would do very well to acquaint themselves.)  His book makes clear that, from soon after Singapore’s independence in 1965, the PAP government viewed the University of Singapore—as NUS was called until the Chinese-medium Nanyang University was merged into it in 1980—as an arm of a state focused on national development.  Little illustrates this reality so starkly as the government’s decision to send then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye to serve as the university’s vice chancellor during 1968-1975.  While no longer serving as deputy prime minister during this period, Dr Toh did remain a member of the cabinet and chairman of the PAP.  Both before and during Dr Toh’s tenure as vice chancellor of the University of Singapore, leading lights of the PAP government (including then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew himself) and of the university’s faculty debated the bases of academic freedom at a national university and the degree of autonomy deserved by such a university with a sophistication sadly missing from current debates on the issue.

What the course of these debates made clear was that PAP Singapore’s national university was not to be a university in the way that the term has ever been understood at Yale.  Here it is useful to recall Professor Gerchenkron’s point about late developers’ adoption of “institutional instruments for which there is little or no counterpart” in the liberal settings of the early developers.  Neither has NUS’s situation changed significantly since the early years of Singapore’s independence.  Professor Lee notes the continued status of NUS as “a university geared to the brain-power needs of the nation . . . in the knowledge and information driven economy of the present” and “the close nexus between the university and the government.”  It is in this light that one must appreciate NUS’s emphasis on the same sorts of quantitative measures—publications in “top” journals, university rankings—that one might associate with the measurement of economic growth.  And so one must also understand the focus of its Asia Research Institute on migration and the family, urbanism, science and society, and religion and globalization—all concerns of the PAP government.  Similarly, and as the University of Wisconsin geographer and specialist on the globalization of higher education Professor Kris Olds has written, the emergence of Singapore as a “global schoolhouse” or as the “Boston of the East” is a PAP government undertaking, one reflective of planning about the next stage in Singapore’s national development.[8]  The proposed Yale-NUS college can only be understood with reference to Professor Olds’s writings on this subject.

For institutions of the sort that PAP Singapore developed in order to achieve its astonishing record of economic growth to function as they have done, Professor Gerschenkron’s third generalization needed to obtain.  The “intellectual climate” of Singapore, like that of virtually every successful “late” developer before it, has been illiberal.  So, too, have its political, social, and intellectual orders.  When the chairman of the governing board of the proposed Yale-NUS college recently declined to label the education that it would offer “liberal,” some Yale alumni were nonplussed.[9]  But the chairman’s remarks reflected a canny understanding of the context in which the college was to operate.  “Liberal” is a term of derision in the official lexicon of PAP Singapore.  This derision has its roots in a conviction that liberals were too weak to lead Singapore through the challenges of its early history, that they remain too weak to take the hard decisions necessary to ensure the country’s continued prosperity.

On one level, there is nothing objectionable to all this. Singapore and Singaporeans have charted the course of their own history.  It is not for foreigners to intervene in their affairs.  What is objectionable is the failure of Yale’s current leadership perhaps to understand and certainly to be frank and honest about what it has got Yale involved in. Yale’s leadership can talk, breezily and foolishly, about bringing a new model of the liberal arts college to “Asia” all that it wants.  But to be credible, it must acknowledge that Yale has sold its services—and, some would emphasize, its name—to a PAP Singapore focused on further developing its economy by becoming an education hub.  The Yale-NUS college is one component of this effort, and to see it in any other light is to betray a sorry failure to understand Singapore.

Yale and NUS are both “universities.”  But they are not institutions of a “counterpart” nature.  For all of the surface similarities between Yale and NUS, the term “university” has two fundamentally different meanings as applied to the two institutions. Recognition of this reality, and of the import and purpose of the Yale-NUS college in late-developing Singapore, has at least four direct implications, implications that Yale’s current leadership and its fast-dwindling band of allies on the Yale faculty should long since have made explicit.

The first of these relates to the question of academic freedom, which has caused so much concern at Yale.  In a sense, this question has been misspecified from the start.  Stake-holders in liberal institutions view academic freedom as an unquestioned value, as a central feature of the enterprise.  But in the illiberal institutional context of the late developer, freedom—academic or otherwise—has a purely instrumental function.  Scholars in this illiberal context may range freely within their disciplines, as the advancement of those disciplines and the publication of work in those disciplines contribute to the purpose of that which is called “the university” and thus to national development.  But that freedom has no value in its own right, and disciplines and expertise may be demarcated in ways that restrict scholars to what is in effect a spacious and exceedingly well appointed academic pen.  Research and publication within the confines of this pen will rarely require any direct intervention to curtail freedom of expression.  But confines are nevertheless confines, and those in question are not necessarily determined with reference to the concerns of scholarship.

Second, individuals charged with building and leading institutions in the illiberal context of late development know what they want, and they play to win.  The embarrassingly long interval between September 2010 and March 2011 during which Yale and the PAP government worked to hammer out an agreement on the planned college made these truths manifest.  While a close confidant of its president lamented that Yale had “no leverage” in its negotiations with Singapore, there was at the same time exasperation among NUS administrators over Yale’s failure to understand Singapore, its needs, and its constraints.  The Singapore side knew, that is, what it was after.  The Yale side could not be sure what it itself wanted.  One senior faculty member at Yale remarked, “Rick [as Yale’s president is commonly called] wants to do something big internationally, but he does not have the money.”  So he would have Singapore pay for this “something big” before concluding his long, long presidency of Yale.  Others felt that the president was bored with New Haven and sought ways to have his job take him elsewhere.  Perceptive observers in Singapore and elsewhere wondered whether Yale feared being left behind in an Asia-centric twenty-first century if it remained focused on New Haven and whether it saw tying up with NUS as a ready-made answer to those fears.  Neither is it clear that, in the period since March 2011, Yale has put behind it what the rugged men and women of a late developer would view as the weak and indecisive conduct of the liberal.  In the humanities and social sciences, Yale’s approach to faculty recruitment for the planned college has left the distinct impression that it has very little idea what it is doing.

Third, there are some areas in which squaring the circle in any partnership between Yale and a national university conceived of as is NUS will prove simply impossible.  These areas include legislation infringing on the rights of homosexuals in Singapore, its PAP government’s regime of labor control, and the state’s prerogative to monitor the activities of societies, including those operating on university campuses. Neither Yale’s incumbent president nor any of the successors to whom he bequeaths such an unsustainable partnership will be in any position to ask Singapore to take that legislation off its books, to introduce a legally enforceable minimum wage or the right of collective bargaining for the foreign workers and elderly Singaporeans who will clean the precincts of the Yale-NUS college, or to promise that student societies affiliated with the college will not be monitored by outside authorities.  Yet Yale’s current leadership and its successors will find their relations with Yale’s gay faculty and students, with faculty and students who respect gay rights, with Yale’s unions, and with student organizations in New Haven that seek out relationships with societies organized under the auspices of the Yale-NUS college difficult if not impossible.  (One notes with some surprise that one voice not yet heard in the debate over Yale’s plans for Singapore is that of the Yale College alumnus and legendary New Haven labor leader John Wilhelm.)

Finally, in 1994 the Singaporean novelist and intellectual Catherine Lim wrote that “a great affective divide” existed between Singapore’s People’s Action Party and the people of Singapore.  Rebuked by the prime minister of the day for involving herself in politics without running for office, she had nevertheless put her finger on an important aspect of the institutions of late developers.  The PAP, ever focused on renewal, has since that time sought to bridge the divide that Ms Lim recognized.  Yale is, however, moving in the opposite direction as a result of its bungling and poorly explained effort to work with an institution of a fundamentally different nature to Yale’s.  Its leadership has opened a great affective divide between many members of the Yale faculty and their former colleague who happens now to be the university’s president and between the supporters of his Singapore plan and the sceptics.  In recent weeks, efforts on the part of Yale’s current leadership and its supporters to overcome these sceptics have taken on a particularly poisonous character.

VI.  Yale’s Great Singapore Folly: What is to be done?

Yale’s Great Singapore Folly raises a fundamental question in the realm of university governance: ought institutions of higher education be held to the same standards of intellectual seriousness to which their faculty hold both one another and their students as these institutions venture out into the world?   If the answer to this question is “yes,” then Yale and its current leadership have failed to meet any reasonable standard.  In fact, that leadership seems not even to have tried.  It seems to believe, that is, that the answer to this question is “no.”  Too, its irresponsible attitude appears to have seeped downward to the Yale administrators and faculty assisting Yale’s leadership in this project.  Others, thankfully, believe that the answer to this question is indeed “yes.”  This group includes not merely members of the Yale faculty, but also Yale alumni with international experience, not least in various parts of Asia, who have begun to fear a deep leadership crisis at Yale.  This includes moneyed alumni.

The flawed, ill-conceived, and “sultanistic” approach taken by Yale’s incumbent president in putting Yale in the employ of Singapore’s PAP government to establish a liberal arts college in partnership with the National University of Singapore means that Yale cannot be a reliable partner for NUS on a sustained basis.  This much is manifest.  Before it sinks even deeper into its quagmire on Kent Ridge, with consequences destructive to Yale and unfair both to its Singaporean paymasters and to NUS, Yale has two alternatives.

The first alternative is for the Yale Corporation to meet, to examine the university’s contract with the PAP government, to consult its lawyers, and to terminate its partnership with NUS before the mess that Yale’s current leadership has made does any more damage to Yale.  In the short run, this decision will cause Yale considerable embarrassment, but folly has its price.  Giving Yale’s incumbent president a Kissingerian “decent interval” at Yale’s helm, the Corporation can hand effective management of Yale over to others and launch a search for Yale’s nineteenth president.  A central goal of that search will be to select an intellectual committed to liberal values and to sincere collegiality and marked by the perspective and judgement to conceive of and forge responsible, durable, and fruitful academic partnerships around the globe for Yale.  (Monoglots need not apply.)  These will have to be partnerships whose terms are consonant with principles of sound university governance and whose rationales can stand up to the scrutiny of a community of scholars.  This decision will leave in the lurch many in Singapore who have worked faithfully and hard on the Yale-NUS college.  But late developers are tough and resourceful.  PAP Singapore has overcome set-backs before.  It will, before long, put this set-back behind it in like manner.

The second alternative is more complicated.  Its purpose is, in essence, to “save” Yale’s relationship with Singapore by taking a range of concrete steps to enable Yale to be a reliable partner to the PAP government and to NUS over the long run.  These steps must include, but are not limited to, the following.

1.  A figure in Yale leadership must deliver a major public address at Yale on Yale and Singapore.  This address must offer a compelling, credible, and serious vision of Singapore and Southeast Asia, of their histories, and of the complex and dynamic societies in this part of the world with which Yale will now engage. It must transcend the defensiveness that has marked Yale’s stated justifications of the Yale-NUS college to present a detailed, intellectually substantive case for establishing a liberal arts college in Southeast Asia, siting that college in Singapore, and allowing a foreign government to finance it.  This address must honor liberal principles and demonstrate the respect for the intelligence of stake-holders—Yale faculty, Yale alumni, and, not least, Yale’s prospective partners in the PAP government and at NUS and the wider tax-paying Singapore public—that has all too often been missing in Yale’s public statements on the Yale-NUS college.  In his treatment of the Yale faculty and in his prolonged failure to articulate a serious rationale for the Yale-NUS college, Yale’s president has long since disqualified himself from giving any such address. Perhaps Yale’s much respected provost, the dean of Yale College, or a member of the Yale Corporation can be tasked to prepare and deliver this address on Yale’s behalf.

2.  Yale must make public the documents setting out all terms agreed upon by Yale and the PAP government, any of its ministries and departments, statutory boards, NUS, sovereign wealth funds, or government-linked corporations.  This includes not only terms relating to academic freedom at the planned college but also terms relating to governance of the college, to the funding of the college, and to compensation to be paid to Yale, to its Officers, or to any of its other personnel.

3.  In order to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest at Yale, Yale must make public the full record of all payments for consulting and other services, all research funding, and any complimentary plane tickets and hotel accommodation rendered to any Officer of Yale University or member of the Yale Corporation during the past fifteen years by any Singaporean government ministry or department, statutory board, university, sovereign wealth fund, government-linked corporation, or putatively independent organization financed primarily by the PAP government.  The tardy statement, clearly drafted with excruciatingly hair-splitting care by Yale’s lawyers, on the financial ties of three current or former fellows of the Yale Corporation released by the university on 1 April—which must have been a pretty panicky Sunday—is not adequate.[10]

4.  Yale must replace four of its appointees to the ten-member Yale-NUS College Governing Board.[11]  Members to be replaced are Yale’s president; Vassar College president Catherine Bond Hill, a Yale-trained economist whose significant international experience was in Zambia (a reality that has left many Singaporeans made aware of it both dumb-founded and offended); and Roland Betts and George W. Bush’s ambassador to China Clark Randt, two plutocratic alumni of Yale College with no record of involvement in Southeast Asia or in education in this region.

Already a member of the governing board, Yale’s University Secretary and vice president—a real listener who is exceptionally well informed in the field of international education—can easily shoulder its president’s duties as a member of the board.  The loss of Messrs Betts and Randt may have an impact on the governing board’s ability to raise funds for the new college, but early indications are that NUS can do so quite effectively with Yale’s name alone.

The replacements for these four Yale appointees to the Yale-NUS College Governing Board ought to include, first, two members of the Yale College faculty chosen for fixed terms through a transparent process and, second, two individuals with Yale affiliations and demonstrated understandings of Singapore and Southeast Asia and their educational contexts.  And—what a thought!—these appointees might even include a Singaporean or two not selected by the PAP government or by NUS.  It is not clear, in fact, why Yale has filled none of its slots on the proposed college’s governing board with Singaporeans or other Southeast Asians. Lack of imagination or of effort offers one likely explanation.  Ignorance of Singapore and Southeast Asia among Yale’s leadership may have left it unaware that the university counts among its alumni, for example,

  • A Singaporean on the faculty of a major American business school, who also earned a degree at Cambridge, taught at America’s finest liberal arts college (Swarthmore), pioneered the study of Singapore’s industrialization strategy, is a leading scholar of Southeast Asian business, and in 2004 co-authored the opinion piece in The Straits Times that originally advocated the establishment of a liberal arts college in this country;
  • A former Philippine Secretary of Education, former university president, former head of the secretariat of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, doctoral student of Harry Benda’s, and visionary advocate of accessible tertiary education in Southeast Asia who studied five decades ago at the Ateneo de Manila University when it already offered an undergraduate program in liberal arts in Asia;
  • An influential Malaysian alumnus of Yale College who has served as the United Nations’ first Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, taught briefly at Yale and for many years at NUS’s sister institution the University of Malaya, and has published and edited dozens of books in the field of political economy;
  • And Singapore’s leading legal and constitutional historian, holder of a Yale Law JSD, author of a landmark biography of Singapore’s first, liberal chief minister, and hugely active and effective former president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

These are but four possibilities for appointment to the governing board of the proposed Yale-NUS college.  There are many, many others. The point, simply, is to see Yale represented on the board of the Yale-NUS college by men and women who understand the context in which the college will operate and who know what they are doing.  Only thus can Yale be a reliable partner for NUS.

5.  Yale must establish on a site as close as feasible to NUS’s Kent Ridge campus a completely Yale-funded (no PAP-government-subsidized rent, either) research center with a director drawn from the Yale faculty on a two- or three-year term.  This director will serve during his or her term as a member of the faculty of the Yale-NUS college with a reduced course-load, but Yale will pay her or his salary.  The center will coordinate the activities and research of Yale faculty and graduate or professional students from all schools of the university, and of Yale College undergraduates, relating to Southeast Asia and to the region’s place in the broader Asian and global contexts.  It will serve as an outpost of genuine Yale in the region and an always open window on the Yale-NUS college.  It will serve as an arena for contact between Yale faculty and students on the one hand and Singaporean and Southeast Asian scholars and intellectuals not introduced to Yale by NUS administrators on the other.  Finally, this research center will help give Yale and its faculty the stake in Singapore and Southeast Asia without which the university cannot be NUS’s reliable partner over the long term.  As for its funding, well, rather than raising money for the Yale-NUS college, Messrs Betts and Randt can devote themselves to fund-raising on this new center’s behalf and to recruiting other Yale alumni to helping them.   Perhaps the new center could be named for one of the eminent Southeast Asianists whose tenure at Yale have epitomized its historical seriousness about the region.

Michael Montesano (3 April 2012)

Selected References

Barr, Michael D.  “Marxists in Singapore?” Critical Asian Studies XLII, 3 (2010): 335-362.

Benda, Harry J. Continuity and Change in Southeast Asia.  New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Series No. 18, 1972.

Fairbank, John K., Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig.  East Asia: Tradition and Transformation.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

Gerschenkron, Alexander.  Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962.

Goh Keng Swee. The Economics of Modernization.  Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Goh Keng Swee.  The Practice of Economic Growth.  Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Goh Keng Swee.  The Wealth of East Asian Nations. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Gomez, James.  Self-Censorship: Singapore’s Shame.  With a foreword by Philip Jeyaretnam. Singapore: THINK Centre, 2000.

David Halberstam.  The Making of a Quagmire.  New York: Random House, 1965.

Handley, Paul M.  The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.

Lee, Edwin.  Singapore: The Unexpected Nation.  Singapore: ISEAS, 2008.

Linz, Juan J., and H. E. Chehabi, eds.  Sultanistic Regimes. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Seow, Francis T.  To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison. New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Series No. 42, 1994.

______.  Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary.  New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Series No. 55,


Teo Soh Lung. Beyond the Blue Gate. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Centre, 2010.

Wolters, O. W.  History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives.  Revised edition. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1999.

Zakaria, Fareed and Lee Kuan Yew. “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew.” Foreign Affairs LXXII, 2 (1994):  109-126.


[7]Even a cursory reading of the collected speeches and writings—many touching on higher education—of the brilliant and inexhaustible Dr Goh Keng Swee, the creator of many of the institutions central to PAP Singapore’s success as a “late” developer, immerses one in a thoroughly Gerschenkronian world.

[10] It needs to be acknowledged that this requirement will in all likelihood force Mr Charles Goodyear to resign from the Yale Corporation, as his ability to reveal the financial terms under which he left Temasek Holdings may well be constrained.  Mr Goodyear was for some years a senior executive of the holding company for Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, a firm with historic ties to Yale alumni that was closely associated with the late General Suharto’s New Order dictatorship in Indonesia.  He is, thus, perhaps the only individual in a leadership position at Yale who understands how the rough, serious Southeast Asian game is played.  He is a focused, bright, personable man who also, that is, knows where the bodies are buried in this part of the world.  For Yale, his resignation from the Corporation would be a real blow.  For Yale’s president Richard C. Levin, however, it would bring a certain poetic justice, for he has acknowledged that his project in Singapore is very much related to fundamental issues of university governance; see  (It should also be noted that, a week or so ago, I tested this need for transparency regarding previous financial ties to Singaporean entities with two Singaporeans whose sharp critical faculties testify to their fine educations in NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.  Their understanding of Singapore Inc. led them to consider the need obvious and logical.)

Deterritorializing academic freedom: reflections inspired by Yale-NUS College (and the London Eye)

To what degree is academic freedom being geographically unsettled – deterritorialized, more accurately – in the context of the globalization of higher education? This was one of the issues I was asked about a few days ago when I spoke to a class of New York-based Columbia University students about the globalization of higher education, with a brief case study about Singapore’s global higher education hub development agenda. Some of the students were intrigued by this debate erupting (again) about Yale’s involvement in Yale-NUS College:

Given that we only had a limited time to discuss these issues, I’ve outlined elements of the comments I would have added if I had a little more time during the Q&A session. And clearly, there is even much more to say about these issues than what is outlined below, but I’ve got grading to attend to, so this entry will have to suffice. And if any of you (the students) have more questions, please email me anytime. I’m obviously making this follow-up public on a weblog as well, as it fits into the broad themes covered in GlobalHigherEd.

The first point I wanted to reinforce is it is important to recognize that Singapore’s attempt to become the ‘Boston of the East’ is underlain by structural change in Singapore’s economy, and a related perception that a ‘new breed’ of Singaporean is needed.* Implementation of the global education hub development agenda is therefore dependent upon the exercise of statecraft and the utilization of state largesse. For example, nothing would be happening in Singapore regarding the presence of foreign universities were it not for shifts in how the state engages with foreign actors, including universities like Yale and Chicago. The opening up of territory to commercial presence (to use GATS parlance) as well as ‘deep partnerships,’ and the myriad ideological/regulatory/policy shifts needed to draw in foreign universities, have been evident since 1998. In an overall sense, this development agenda is designed to help reshape society and economy, while discursively branding (it is hoped) Singapore as one of the ‘hotspots’ in the city-region archipelago which fuels, and profits from, the global knowledge economy.

Second, and as I noted on Thursday in my lecture, one of the three key post-1998 realignments is an enhanced acceptance of academic freedom in Singapore (in comparison to the 1980s and early 1990s). This is a point that was made in a 2005 chapter* I co-authored with Nigel Thrift and the same conditions exist today as far as I am concerned (though I do not speak for Nigel Thrift here).

In Singapore over the last decade plus, local universities have acquired considerably more autonomy regarding governance matters; faculty now have historically unprecedented freedom to shape curricula and research agendas; and students have greater freedom to express themselves, even taking on ruling politicians in campus fora from time to time. I personally believe that the practice of academic freedom is alive and well in Singapore for the most part, and that critics of (for example) the Yale-NUS venture would be fools to assume this is a Southeast Asian Soviet-era Czechoslovakia: Singapore is far more sophisticated, advanced, and complex than this. Universities like the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University are full of discussion, politically tinged banter, illuminating discussions in classes, and vigorous debates mixed with laughter over lunches at the many campus canteens. There is no difference between the debates I had about politics in Singapore when I worked there for four years (1997-2001), and when visiting since, to those I have had at the ‘Berkeley of the Midwest’ (UW-Madison) from 2001 on, or my alma maters in Canada (University of British Columbia) and England (University of Bristol). The relatively cosmopolitan and young (age-wise) nature of the faculty base in Singapore also indirectly engenders some forms of open-mindedness that are absent from more established (and sometimes smug) centers of scholarship.

This said, Singapore is a highly charged ‘soft authoritarian’ political milieu: if certain conditions come together regarding the focus and activities of a faculty member (or indeed anyone else in Singapore, be they expatriates, permanent residents, or long-term citizens), a strong state guided by political elites has much room to maneuver – legally, administratively, procedurally, symbolically – in comparison to most other developed countries. In this kind of context, a focused form of ‘calibrated coercion’ can be exercised, if so desired, and an analyst’s life can be made very difficult despite the general practice of academic freedom on an average day- to-day basis. There are discussions about ‘OB markers’ (out-of-bounds markers) regarding certain topics, some forms of self-censorship regarding work on select themes, and perhaps a lift of the eye when CVs come in with Amnesty International volunteer experience listed on them. And at a broader scale, the Public Order Act regulates ‘cause-related’ cause-related activities that “will be regulated by permit regardless of the number of persons involved or the format they are conducted in.” Even before the 2009 tightening of revisions to the Public Order Act, I recall stumbling upon a ruckus (desperately searching for a post-lunch coffee, circa 1999-2000) when I witnessed police removing the leader of the opposition from the grounds of the National University of Singapore after he attempted give an impromptu (I assume) speech to students below the main library.

In short, Singapore is a complicated place, and one needs to work hard to understand the complexities and nuances that exist. Blind naïveté (often facilitated by temptingly high salaries, and lack of regional knowledge) is as bad as cynical critique: like all places (Singapore and the US included), there are many shades of grey in our actually existing world. On this point it worth quoting the ever insightful Cherian George:

Singapore is not for everyone. Compared with countries at a similar income level, it is backward in the inclusiveness it offers to people with disabilities. It is a relatively safe country for families – but an innocent person who is wrongly suspected of a crime has more reason to fear in Singapore than in countries that treat more seriously the rights of the accused. And those who care enough for their society to stand up and criticise it have to be prepared to be treated as an opponent by an all-powerful government, enduring harassment and threats to their livelihoods. Being a writer immersed in Singapore has not blinded me to the system’s faults. But, one common form of critique in which I find myself unable to indulge is caricature, reducing Singapore to a society ruled by a monolithic elite, served by a uniformly pliant media, and populated by lobotomised automatons. Such essentialised accounts of government, media and people may satisfy the unengaged, but they generate too much cognitive dissonance for me. The Singapore I know – like any human society – is diverse and complex…

So, in my view, the practice of academic freedom in Singapore is alive and well on a number of levels, but there are always significant political sinkholes that might open up; you just never know…

Academic freedoms & the Singapore Eye

But what are the many foreign universities with a presence in this Southeast Asian city-state doing about academic freedom? In particular, if there is a lack of clarity about the nature of academic freedom given that guidelines are not codified, rules are unclear, and there appear to be no formalized procedures for dealing with serious contests, do foreign universities just accept the same conditions local faculty and students cope with?

The answer is a clear and resolute “no,” at least for highly respected universities like Chicago, Cornell, Duke, and Yale. Rather, what they do about academic freedom depends upon the outcome of negotiations between each of these foreign universities and the Singaporean state (sometimes in conjunction with local partner universities).

One of the more intriguing things about the development process is that most of the foreign universities that have engaged with the Singaporean state have developed what are effectively bilateral understandings of academic freedom. As I noted in 2005:**

Yet despite the influx of a significant number of American and European universities in response to the emergence of these new socio-economic development objectives, the concept of academic freedom, one of the underlying foundations of world class university governance systems, has received remarkably limited discussion and debate. The discussions and negotiations about the nature of academic freedom vis a vis Singapore’s global schoolhouse have been engaged with in a circumscribed and opaque manner. Deliberations have primarily taken the form of closed negotiation sessions between senior administrators representing foreign universities, and officials and politicians representing the Singaporean state. The agreements that have been made are verbal for the most part, though they have also been selectively inscribed in the confidential Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) and Agreements that have been signed between the Government of Singapore or local universities and the foreign universities in question. Strands of the concept have been brought over by the foreign universities, reworked during negotiations, and constituted in verbal and sometimes confidential textual form. The development of a series of case-by-case conceptualizations of academic freedom is hybridizing in effect. Through verbal agreements of unique forms, and through MOUs and Agreements of unique forms, foreign universities and the Singaporean state have splintered academic freedom in unique ways, unsettling previous notions of academic freedom in quite significant and hitherto unexamined ways.

See, for example, pages 6-8 of a Yale-issued summary of the agreement it reached with the Singaporean state.

Leaving aside the content of this message from Yale’s president, it is important to stand back and reflect on what is going on. In my opinion what we’re seeing is the creation of a strategically delineated understanding of academic freedom; one specified by just two parties in this case, and one that applies is a narrowly circumscribed geographic context (the Yale-NUS campus).

But think about the patterns here. Who is at the center of this aspect of the development process? It is the Singaporean state, including senior politicians such as the minister of education, the deputy prime minister, the prime minister, and in the Yale case senior leadership at NUS.

Much like the London Eye, a myriad of universities work with the Singaporean state on this issue at a bilateral (case by case) level. Given this, no one knows more about how academic freedom can be negotiated and framed than the people at the center of the negotiation dynamic. A Singapore Eye of sorts (if this admittedly awkward analogy makes sense!) regarding academic freedom exists. A less obtuse analogy might be a hub (the state) and spoke (multiple foreign universities) one. And the outcome is a plethora of differentially shaped academic freedoms in Singapore, scattered across the city-state in association with the foreign universities, shorn as far as I can tell from much of the context local universities (and their academics) are embedded in.

In the global higher ed context, this pattern is not unique to Singapore. The same case could be made regarding Qatar, Abu-Dhabi, Dubai, and China (albeit to a lesser degree). What is noteworthy is that the current experts regarding the globalization of academic freedom are monarchs and political elites associated with ruling regimes, not the people associated with the higher education sector, for they are too focused on their own institutional agendas.

Another interesting aspect of this development process is the absence of any form of collective representation regarding academic freedom in these hubs. Universities (e.g., Yale, Cornell, MIT, NYU, Texas A&M) active in global higher education hubs informally share information, to be sure, but their capacity to share information, and model practices, depends on proactive and savvy administrators who know what to think about, what to ask about, and where the ‘non-negotiable’ line should be drawn.

Once they forge their agreement with the state in these hubs, they move on to the implementation phase. And then 1-3-5 years later in comes a new university, and this pattern starts afresh (and a new spoke is added). But the lines connecting the foreign universities are thin. For example, it is worth considering how many of the recent negotiations about academic freedom in Singapore have been informed by a critical analysis of the pros and cons of the University of Warwick’s deliberations about opening up a branch campus in Singapore circa 2005, including Dr. Thio Li-ann‘s substantial report about academic freedom in Singapore.

In conclusion: on absence vs presence

Well, I’ve gone on now longer than I expected. But I want to close off by asking you (Columbia U students) to think about absence as much as presence. I’ve often encouraged my own students to think about this aspect of development, for while we can recognize and focus on presence, absence matters just as much. Absence is itself a phenomenon associated with the development process: absence is often desired, or absence can exist as an outcome of the lack of capability, planning, and resources.

One thing that appears to be absent in Singapore as a whole are codified rules and guidelines about academic freedom: what it is defined as, what its limitations are, and what its value is to higher education institutions. Interestingly you find all sorts of statements about the presence of academic freedom in Singapore, much like the ones I made above, or the ones put forward yesterday by Simon Chesterman (see ‘Academic freedom in New Haven and S’pore,’ The Straits Times, 30 March 2012). [Professor Chesterman is Dean of the NUS Law School. Given that he is a law professor, and also son-in-law of the architect of Singapore’s global schoolhouse development strategy (Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam, Singapore’s current President), his views are worth taking note of.] But statements and op-eds are just that; they are not the only things that create formally demarcated and secure spaces for researchers and students. What arguably helps realize and ground academic freedom are legible guidelines, codified procedures in case of contest, laws, and symbolic affirmations of value such as this plaque I walked past this morning.

Statements, even by important officials and member of the elite do not beget confidence about the importance of academic freedom, hence the desire of universities like Yale and Cornell to act – to codify – on a bilateral basis.

One of the more curious aspects of this ongoing debate about academic freedom is that Singapore has a reputation as a place that respects the rule of law, and it has a formidable reputation for the quality and clarity of regulation regarding key industries (e.g., finance). Yet the guidelines and regulations associated with the space to produce and circulate information and knowledge via universities situated in Singaporean territory remains limited, in my opinion. Why, especially when academic freedom keeps emerging as a concern of global actors like Yale (circa 2011-2012), Warwick (circa 2005), etc.? And why when a knowledge economy and society is just that — one dependent upon the sometimes unruly production of valuable forms of knowledge?

Is bilateralism regarding academic freedom really the most effective approach? I’m not so sure for what it appears to do is provide fuel for debates, such as the one unfolding in Yale right now. Absence on this core issue (academic freedom) in Singapore as a whole, is arguably providing fuel for fire. Thus while some Yalies (is that what they are called?) seem to be disseminating remarkable unsophisticated understandings of how academia and politics works in Singapore, I would argue that the Singaporean authorities have created an opaque regulatory and discursive context regarding academic freedom vis a vis the production and circulation of knowledge. And as anyone who works on economic development knows, uncertainty is a problematic factor that can inhibit or skew the development process, partly because of misinterpretations.

A second absence is a global scale mechanism to ensure that the core principles associated with academic freedom are protected and realized as best it can be for the global community of scholars of which we are all (in Singapore, in New Haven, in Qatar, in Madison) a part. The long history of academic freedom is intertwined with the emergence of enlightenment(s), modernity(ies), and the associated development of societies and economies. Academic freedom helps create the space for the search for truth, the unfettered production and circulation of knowledge, and socio-economic innovation. But academic freedom has to be practiced, protected, codified, and realized, including while it is being globalized. The bilateralism evident in places like Singapore is inadequate in that the ‘foreign’ universities engaged in it are only thinking of themselves and not the global ecumene and community of universities. It is surely time for them to exercise some global leadership on such a core/foundational principle; one that has helped these universities become what they are.

Great to meet you all last Thursday. Be sure to think hard about this issue, gather diverse perspectives as any good student should, and feel 100% free to disagree with me.  And hope next week’s discussions go well!

Kris Olds

* Olds, K., and Thrift, N. (2005) ‘Cultures on the brink: reengineering the soul of capitalism – on a global scale’, in A. Ong and S. Collier (eds.) Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 270-290.

** Olds, K. (2005) ‘Articulating agendas and traveling principles in the layering of new strands of academic freedom in contemporary Singapore’, in B. Czarniawska and G. Sevón (eds.) Where Translation is a Vehicle, Imitation its Motor, and Fashion Sits at the Wheel: How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in the Global Economy, Malmö : Liber AB , pp. 167-189.

Graphic feed: CREATE – an international multi-institution research campus in Singapore/Asia

Source: National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Singapore.

Note: Further information on the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is available via the CREATE Project Brief.

The “new global wealth machine” and its universities

Further to our most recent entry on the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), the Financial Times notes, today, that KAUST’s endowment could swell to a level that would make it the world’s second largest endowment (after Harvard), and it has not even finished building its first building!

As the FT suggests, this is setting off a scramble in the fund management world:

The King Abdullah University of Science & Technology will not open until 2009 but it is already holding talks on its endowment with fund managers such as BlackRock and private equity firms including Bain Capital, people familiar with the matter say.

The university has received $10bn for its endowment from King Abdullah, which would make it the sixth biggest university endowment in the world, said a university spokesman based in Washington.

People familiar with the endowment negotiations say they have been told the fund could grow to as much as $25bn, which would make it the world’s second biggest university endowment after Harvard’s $35bn nest egg.

The endowment would be one of several significant Saudi investment bodies. So far, the Saudi approach has been to refrain from giving any one arm too much money in the hope of maintaining a low profile and preventing a foreign backlash, bankers say.

“The Saudis under-represent both the amount of their reserves and the investments they make overseas,” said the head of the Dubai branch of one large Wall Street firm. “The last thing the Saudis want is to attract attention.”

Noteworthy, of course, was the visit by US President George W. Bush to Saudi Arabia last week, where he pleaded with the same King Abdullah to open the spigots a little wider.

News items like this are reminders that some of the so-called ‘hotspots‘ in the global higher ed world are linked, in quite fascinating ways, to the people controlling political regimes in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Singapore.

On this note, the New York Times graphic below, which was recently profiled by the Center for Graphic Facilitation, hints at the fact that several of the key people behind Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse development initiative (which we will be writing about in the next 1-2 weeks) are also managing the Government of Singapore’s Government Investment Corporation (GIC), a sovereign wealth fund worth at least $330 billion.

As the same FT article notes:

Money from endowments is considered particularly desirable by fund managers because universities have such a long-term investment focus. Some sovereign funds in the Gulf, such as the Kuwait Investment Authority, have adopted the endowments of leading universities such as Harvard and Yale as their role models.

The new political economy of such development initiatives is complicated in nature, yet prising key elements of them apart is a challenging and entirely worthwhile task.

Kris Olds

Residential and liberal arts colleges as ammunition in ‘The Global War on Taylorism’?

I continue to be surprised, partly via my intense use of Google Alerts for updates on global higher ed issues, how much thought provoking stuff there is out there betwixt and between ample supplies of detritus.

One of my alerts, today, linked through to a fascinating on-line article titled ‘The Global War on Taylorism’.

Taylorism, for those of you who have not heard of it, is a concept named after Frederick W. Taylor, a mechanical engineer who has been deemed the ‘father of scientific management’. He was the author of the Principles of Scientific Management (1911), which outlines an approach for enhancing economic efficiency via more strategic management practices. Taylorism and the associated concept of Fordism (and Post-Fordism), often go hand in hand. While originally associated with the retooling and scaling up of manufacturing processes, Taylorism has been applied to many other sectors and realms of life, for good and for bad.

While this is not the space for an exposition of Taylorism, or any number of associated concepts, as applied to the management of higher education, it is worth linking through to ‘The Global War on Taylorism’ in the Collegiate Way. The Collegiate Way is run by the evolutionary biologist Dr. Robert J. O’Hara.

This article has been highlighted as we at GlobalHigherEd have been noting the increased interest in establishing new residential colleges, and liberal arts colleges, in a variety of countries that are dominated by standardized public mass higher education institutions. An interest in more nurturing and reflective educational spaces is also emerging in societies (see, for example Hong Hong’s Lee Woo Sing College; Singapore’s new residential colleges, and the city-state’s proposed liberal arts college) where there is pressure to quickly cultivate more creative and critically thinking citizen-subjects. Residential and liberal arts colleges contrast, strikingly so, with mass private for-profit education (the Apollo/Phoenix model), and distance education more generally.

As the Collegiate Way frames it:

[r]esidential colleges originated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain, and they have long been a feature of higher education in Commonwealth countries. The first American universities to establish residential colleges were Harvard and Yale in the 1930s, and in recent years they have spread to institutions as varied as Murray State University in Kentucky, the University of Miami in Florida, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University in New Jersey, the University of Central Arkansas, Acadia University in Nova Scotia, the University of the Americas in Mexico, and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

This push could be construed as part of the anti-Taylorist agenda, or (more cynically) as a money making venture, or service differentiation vehicle, to create a new niche in the global higher ed world – analogous to the boutique offerings available 1-2 blocks on either side of Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. In reality there will be many shades of grey, and many complexions, with respect to the motives and effectiveness of new residential and liberal arts colleges around the world.

In any case, as the Collegiate Way puts it, a long-term struggle is underway to distort and destabilize existing practices, either through the creation of new higher ed institutions (e.g., Quest University, in Squamish B.C., Canada, which was favourably profiled this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education), or through the insertion of new learning spaces within existing institutions (e.g., Chadbourne Residential College, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

In the end, perhaps:

[t]he Global War on Taylorism will be a long, generational struggle. But in no theater can it be more righteously fought than in education. And in education it should be righteously fought, because students are not fractional Full-time Equivalents or ethno-economic vectors in Complex Systems Theory. They are individuals. Let us, as individuals, rouse and guide their powers of genius. Let us teach them beauty and truth, art and science, and the unquiet minds that have sought beauty and truth throughout history. Let us teach them to be, not parts but persons, not automatons but agents, not types but worlds.

Kris Olds

‘Branding’ global higher education services in the Netherlands

Governments are increasingly turning to ‘branding’ their higher education sector in order to promote them as globally competitive knowledge services sectors, and to secure a competitive advantage on the basis of imagined lifestyles, access of cultural experiences, a quality education, and so on. New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, to name just a few countries, have all been busy identifying and packaging the unique image they want to project in order to generate ‘brand value’.

The Netherlands is no exception. It is actively promoting itself as a major European destination, with offices in Beijing, Taipei, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Mexico City. Offices in Bangkok and Moscow are due to open in 2008. According to the Institute of International Education’s Atlas of Student Mobility, the Netherlands currently has around 2% of the world market of international students, with some 42,000 students enrolled in higher education programs in the Netherlands.

‘Study in Holland’ was launched in January of this year as the official brand for the Netherlands. According to Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education,

The logo combines traditional symbols of Holland – the tulip and the windmill – with symbols for higher education and research. The tagline is ‘Study in Holland: open to international minds’. The brand was developed by Fabrique Communication & Design, and international students played an important role in selecting the final design.

Nuffic also notes that:

Research has shown that international students choose the Netherlands because of the academic quality and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. For their part, Dutch higher education institutions consider the international staff and student populations an important part of their quality assurance policy.

The brand can be used by higher education institutions who are accredited by the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO). They must also have signed up to the Code of Conduct, which is a set of minimum standards for the teaching and care provided to international students in the Netherlands.

Aside from a large number of programs (especially graduate) where teaching is in English, an important element of the Dutch brand not explicitly featured is the relatively low student fee which international students are charged (in comparison to the USA, Australia and UK). Low fees can be a comparative advantage. However, in the case of the Netherlands, the low fee is also a signal of a particular social welfare regime and social ethic. It conjures up European values, a European social model, and so on which is part of its ‘cosmopolitan’ attraction.


However, according to a Nuffic Report issued on the 4th March this year, this is about to change in the 2008-9 academic year. Non European Economic Area (EEA) students will face a doubling of fees for professional and vocational programs in Dutch universities presenting the further penetration of fee increases in university programs. This means that fees that sit currently at around 3,500 euro are estimated to almost double taking them to around 7,000 euro (US $11,000). Universities like the University of Amsterdam had already moved to increase fees in academic programs over a year ago taking them well into the 9,000 euro mark.

What will be interesting in 2008-9 is to see how these moves impact on brand image and brand managing. After all, we can package a brand and project it, however the ‘consumers’ also have their own often more pragmatic reasons for choosing one course and place over another. Playing around with the actual product, such as the cost of fees and so on, has major implications for the take up of the brand and must surely create a headache for brand managers.

Susan Robertson

‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

Several months back in our round-up of the global higher education student mobility market, we reported that Malaysia might be viewed as an emerging contender with 2% of the world market in 2006 (this was using the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education figures which reports only on the higher education sector).

Last week, Malaysia’s leading newspaper The Star reported that figures had increased between 2006 and 2008 by 30%, bringing the overall numbers of international students in Malaysian international schools and higher education institutions to 65,000. According to the following calculations by industry analyst (see pamjitsingh.ppt) the Malaysian government is well on target to realise its 2010 goal of 100,000 international students.

Taking into account the forecast in world demand by 2010, the Malaysian government estimates that their market share would need to grow from its current world share of international students (schools and higher education) of 3.9% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2010. In comparison to the global average annual growth rate of international students which is around 7.4% p.a, the Malaysian target growth rate would need to be in the order of 24.0% per annum to achieve the 2010 target.

In order to realize this goal, a new Higher Education Ministry Marketing and International Education Division was created.


    Dr Mohamed Nasser Mohamed Noor took on the post of Division Director in January 2006. According to Dr. Nasser, the success of this rapid increase can be attributed to Malaysia’s ‘branding’ of its education sector – ‘Malaysia Education’. It would seem that Malaysia is not far off course to realize their 2010 target if they maintain their current progress of 30% increase over two years (2006-2008).

    Branding has emerged as an important strategy for governments seeking to strategically develop their higher education markets. Nick Lewis’s entry on Brand New Zealand carried on GlobalHigherEd late last year illustrates how cultural re/sources, such as ‘clean’, ‘safe’, ‘green’ New Zealand, are being drawn upon to realise value and to reposition New Zealand in a highly competitive market.

    Similarly Europe (see this report destination-europe.pdf) has been casting around for an identifiable ‘brand’ to market itself as a significant player with an identifiable ‘product’ in the global higher education market. This means finding a combination of distinctive elements that enable the country or region to position themselves in relation to the competition.

    The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote its product – one that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality of education. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese; its Islamic religion; and its experience of colonialism. Despite the contradictions inherent in this new form of neo-colonialism, these cultural values and symbols are being (effectively?) mobilized to open up the African, Arab, Chinese and Indonesian markets.

    Malaysia’s story demonstrates the high level of fluidity in globalising the higher education market. It requires players to be highly competitive, constantly utilize intelligence, be attentive to strategies as to how to open new markets, and have a way of representing the sector as an attractive and unique brand.

    Will Malaysia leave behind its ’emerging contender’ crown and don the mantle of a major player in the region? Much depends clearly on what the other players in the region do – Singapore, China and Australia. Let’s see what 2010 reveals.

    Susan Robertson

    Engaging globally through joint and double degree programmes: a view from Singapore

    Editor’s note: further to Kavita Pandit’s entry yesterday (‘Engaging globally through dual degree programs: SUNY in Turkey‘), Lily Kong‘s entry here also focuses on joint and double degree programmes, at the undergraduate level, though from the perspective of a senior administrator and scholar of cultural change who is based in Singapore. Lily Kong is Vice-President (University and Global Relations) for the National University of Singapore (NUS), and also Director of the Asia Research Institute. One of her previous entries in GlobalHigherEd focused on international consortia of universities. Both entries reflect NUS’ role as a relatively global university, partly spurred on by the nature of higher education policy in this Southeast Asian city-state, and partly by the forces underlying Singapore’s development process.


    International agendas for many universities today almost invariably include a student exchange/study abroad component. In fact, for some, setting and reaching a self-imposed target to send a certain proportion of each cohort on such programmes can become a consuming affair, never mind the quality of the actual experience.

    Another common expression of the international ambitions of many universities is the facilitation of education tourism (perhaps described in more exalted ways). In many cases, students travel together under the care of a lecturer, learn about another country, but stay in their “environmental bubble”, remaining part of the large group from their home university and within a safe comfort zone.

    There are other expressions yet of global ambitions among universities and while they are fraught with a range of difficulties, there are of course also many positive ways in which such programmes have been implemented, and from which students learn much.

    In Singapore, not only do universities roll out programmes such as these, so too are secondary schools and junior colleges actively involved in promoting and facilitating such overseas experiences. In a country where overseas private travel for leisure is common and has been on the rise (any flight is a flight out of the country), the question that needs to be asked is how local HEIs can provide for stimulating and meaningful international experiences when many young people have literally been there and done that.

    nuscampus.jpgIn the last three to four years, the National University of Singapore has negotiated joint and double degrees with overseas partners for undergraduate courses of study (preceding these by quite some years were graduate level joint/double degrees). They offer that qualitatively (and quantitatively) different experience for students, so they present a value proposition to many who had in their earlier years of education already gone on a short exchange to Australia or visited Shakespeare-land in a school group.

    What a joint degree means and how it is different from a double/dual degree is not as common knowledge as I had previously assumed. When approaching other universities with the concept and proposal to explore possibilities, I have been surprised by how some with very explicit global/international rhetoric have never thought about these options.

    The versions I am familiar with are as follows. A joint degree student spends the same amount of time obtaining the degree as a single degree student, and about half the period of candidature is spent in a partner institution. He/she obtains a single degree with two university imprimaturs upon graduation. A double/dual degree student usually spends more time than required for a single degree but less time required for two separate degrees and obtains two degrees upon graduation. The time saved comes from “double-counting” some courses. Again, about half the total period of candidature is spent in the partner institution.

    These joint and double degree programmes have been attractive for a variety of reasons for students at NUS. For those desirous of an overseas education/degree but for whom that is not possible (e.g. financial constraints, familial conditions), the shortened period overseas becomes a nice middle-ground. For those tentative but curious about a full overseas education, this too provides a comfortable combination. Others have recognized the advantages of two sets of educational, social and cultural experiences, and developing two sets of friendships and networks. And of course, the value of two degrees in less time or one degree from two prestigious institutions is a draw in itself. Indeed, this has become a significant part of NUS’ strategy to attract some of the brightest students in Singapore to study at NUS, and early indications are that it is working.

    NUS now has joint undergraduate degrees with Australia National University (in physics, chemistry, mathematics, economics/actuarial studies, history, philosophy, English literature), the University of Melbourne (civil engineering), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (in geography, political science, history, English literature, and economics).

    The challenges of setting up these arrangements are not trivial. Often, the transaction costs are very high. Setting up the joint undergraduate degrees named above, for example, entailed many rounds of careful discussions and many levels of approvals at both institutions. The discussions and agreements have to penetrate to individual faculty in departments, whose curriculum and perhaps even pedagogies have to be modified. This is one of the first challenges, when university or college administrators wish for a variety of reasons to embark on these arrangements but need to have colleagues at the coalface who will be persuaded by their merits enough to work on them.

    Setting up the structures and programmes is one thing. Encouraging and identifying appropriate students to sign up for these programmes is another. For Singapore, this has not been a problem. Students have for the most part been enthusiastic about the experience and opportunities that this affords, as mentioned above. But students in Australia and in the U.S. have seemed to need much more encouragement. The pastoral care dimension of students who move across state, social and cultural boundaries also needs careful attention.

    Overall, the opportunities have been welcome by students at NUS, and this has been cited by a small, growing number to be the reason for coming to NUS.

    Lily Kong

    From Singapore to Saudi Arabia with an eye on Malaysia

    One of the interesting aspects of running a blog is seeing what entries generate relatively high hit levels, and what search engines generate links to GlobalHigherEd. One issue that is receiving significant attention is anything written on Malaysia. Interest is clearly being spurred on by problems and policy shifts being debated about with respect to this Southeast Asian country’s higher education system. A case in point are four popular entries (including a very simple graphic feed entry):

    shihkaust.jpgI raise the issue in part because the debate about where Malaysia stands, and where it should go, is being stirred up this week by higher ed news in two countries that matter a lot for Malaysia, albeit in very different ways: Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The topic of discussion in the informative Education in Malaysia blog is the announcement that Professor Shih Choon Fong (pictured above, third from the left), President of the National University of Singapore (NUS), will become Founding President of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, near Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. We briefly profiled KAUST, a university with a $10 billion endowment before opening its gates in 2009, in an entry on 26 October. As Tony Pua of Education in Malaysia puts it, Shih’s appointment raises issues about the politics of how senior leaders of Malaysian universities are appointed. It is his view that:

    Malaysian universities, to achieve any form of “greatness” has to first start by recognising that we need world-class leaders (as opposed to jaguh kampungs labelled as “world-class”).

    I’ve called not only for local vice-chancellor position to be “opened” up to competition from non-bumiputeras, but also to widen our search for talent globally. Only then, can our academia take their blinkers off, increase competitiveness and see the chasm separating our local institutions from top-notch colleges….

    Hence the million dollar question is whether the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia can summon the necessary political courage to do the same for the local higher education system or will it choose to ignore international academic leadership which can bring real positive changes in place of a parochial race and nationality pride.

    KAUST’s approach, then, is turned back on Malaysia, and used to shed light on the factors shaping critically important appointment procedures for leaders of national/public institutions. The fact that this is happening in Saudi Arabia, and Singapore (including at Singapore’s fast expanding Singapore Management University), leads some to ask why not in Malaysia too, especially given that Malaysia has very similar higher education goals to both of these countries. As someone who worked in Singapore (1997-2001), and continues to conduct research on the global city-state, I am aware of the dangers of elevating the foreigner (and the overvalorization of people with PhDs from elite American universities) as someone with intrinsic higher ed leadership qualities. This said, the argument in Education in Malaysia is clearly worth thinking about. This news item also reminds us that the denationalization of faculty and university leadership labour markets is continuing apace, though the mix of experience/identity/pedigree/salary politics in hiring procedures is a complex one, and it also varies across space and time.

    Kris Olds

    kaustflyover.jpgps: check out this video flyover of the design for the KAUST campus

    Battling for market share 4: China as an ‘Emerging Contender’ for internationally mobile students

    This week GlobalHigherEd has been running a series of in-depth reports on the battle for market share of higher education. Our reports draw from a major study released last week by the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) on International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends. The Observatory report identifies four categories: (1) Major Players; (2) Middle Powers; (3) Evolving Destinations and (4) Emerging Contenders.

    Today we look at the fourth category – ‘Emerging Contenders’.

    China, Singapore and Malaysia are viewed as emerging contenders each having 7%, 2% and 2% respectively of global market share. Between them, these 3 have 12% (around 250,000-300,000 students) of global market share (compared with 45% for the Major Players, 20% for the Middle Powers, and 13% for the Evolving Destinations). The reason for the OBHE report locating these 3 countries into this category is that:

    • they have all taken active measures to recruit overseas students
    • they have all increased their competitiveness over the past couple of years
    • all three have allocated resources to become ‘world class’ institutions over the next decade
    • changing mobility patterns suggest that they are having some success in getting some market share
    • all three are using more English as the language of instruction, making them more attractive to students
    • all have relatively low fees, and hence are a potentially attractive alternative to the US, UK and Australia


    Shanghai in 2002 (courtesy of Henry Wai-chung Yeung)

    China has 7% of global market share (pretty impressive, given its new arrival status – and compared to the US which has 22%). In 1999, less than 45,000 foreign students were enrolled in Chinese universities. In 2005, it was more than 140,000. The largest majority come from South Korea (25%) and Japan (20%) while Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are also source countries. More significantly, there are students also coming from the US ( in year abroad programs) and Russia. It would appear that international students see some part of their education in China being a strategic investment. This could be enhanced if China engages with the Bologna Process – at present for its own internal restructuring purposes – but it might also make it a more attractive destination for European students, as well as vice versa.

    Singapore has 2% of market share. In 2005, 66,000 foreign students were enrolled. While historically Singapore higher education enrolled students from around the region, its recent Singapore Global Schoolhouse strategy has meant that it has sought to recruit students globally. The OBHE in their report noted:

    It is Singapore’s demography that makes it an especially attractive destination for international students, especially those coming from Asia and the South Pacific. With a population consisting of ethnic Indias, Malays and Chinese, Singapore has the capacity to provide regional students with a ‘Western’ education in a familiar socio-cultural environment.

    However, recent developments in Singapore, most notably the withdrawal of the University of New South Wales Asia campus from Singapore, suggests that there is considerable volatility in the market, and one that might make future investors and students somewhat cautious.

    Malaysia has 2% of global market share – like Singapore. Traditionally its international students have come from around the region – with Chinese students accounting for around 35%. However, over the past decade, Malaysia has tried not only to invest in its own institutions and dissuade its own nationals from leaving, but it has managed to make some inroads in on the Middle East – a fast growing region with ambitions of its own. It has also set up a campus in Gaborone, Botswana – in order to create a bridge into the African region.

    While highly ambitious, the OBHE reports that:

    …bureaucratic difficulties are arguably impeding Malaysia’s competitive progress in the global education market….[this will require] substantial funding toward the development of quality assurance schemes…

    All three players – China, Singapore and Malaysia – should be regarded as serious emerging contenders in the global higher education market, not only because of their potential attractiveness (for instance fees, living costs, language of instruction) but also because, historically, they have been major sending countries. If each of these contenders is able to generate a sufficiently attractive environment to keep their own nationals at home, as well as entice foreign fee-payers, this will surely create a major headache for countries (such as the UK with Malaysian students) who have depended on these students for their own growth.

    Susan Robertson