Archive for the 'Singapore' Category

Secrecy and Accountability in the UNSW Asia Aftermath

Posted by Eric on December 14th, 2007

I mentioned before that it has been difficult to find out the real reasons for the UNSW Asia closure in Singapore in May this year. The University of New South Wales has not exactly followed a transparent strategy in this issue (for my interpretation of the events, look at this post).

A similar level of secrecy seems to be applied to the further handling of the case. This week the Singapore Straits Times reported that the University of New South Wales has agreed to repay some 25 million Australian dollars to Singapore.

The Singapore Economic Development Board said that UNSW has signed a ‘settlement agreement in respect of all outstanding loans and grants payable to the Singapore Government’. Both parties (EDB and UNSW) however declined to comment since they ‘are bound by the terms of agreement which are confidential’.

This makes the issue that I put forward earlier even more pressing. How do we deal with the private ventures of public institutions? Shouldn’t a public university be held publicly accountable for its risky private operations overseas? Clearly, transparency and public accountability are not high on the priority list in the aftermath of the UNSW Asia debacle…

The Viability of Institutional Globalisation

Posted by Eric on November 7th, 2007

Last month’s Far Eastern Economic Review included an article by Simon Montlake on Singapore’s Global School House strategy. The strategy has been formulated to contributes to Singapores development as a regional and global hub for research and development and – in Montlake’s words – to shed a reputation as a stodgy, scripted society, where creativity is dulled by overzealous government regulation.

The strategy targets a growth in foreign students from 80,000 now to 150,000 by 2015. This growth obviously cannot be solely absorbed by Singapore’s two major universities, NUS and NTU and therefore Singapore is creating linkages with foreign partners. Not just out of necessity, but – according to Montlake – also as a matter of prestige:

Singapore also wants to tap this growing market. While its homegrown universities have some appeal to other Asians, a far juicier prize is to partner with a prestigious Western school, essentially outsourcing world-class education to Singapore.

He states that, since 1998, around 16 universities have forged linkages with local institutions, typically in the form of joint graduate programs. In a recent article in the journal ‘World Development’, Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin and Global HigherEd) identifies 25 of such ventures (click picture to enlarge):


UNSW Asia: the conjuncture of events

Posted by Eric on July 4th, 2007

(update below) Fred Hilmer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, looks back on the UNSW Asia debacle. One of the question that I asked in my post immediately after UNSW’s announcement was about the real reason for UNSW’s sudden departure. Much news has been reported since, but none of the explanations can fully explain it. Hilmer points to the low enrollment numbers as the reason and the fact that the Singapore Economic Development Board wasn’t willing to accept their rescue plan.Today it was also reported that high fees led to the fall of the Singapore Campus. This has been said by many others but it can’t be a sufficient reason. Other senior academics at UNSW Asia blamed a lack of marketing for its demise. Sure, this might be part of the explanation as well. Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne University explained that the business plan was plain bad and based on too rosy a set of enrollment projections.

I think we have to conclude that there is not one single reason for UNSW’s pull-out. It is more a concurrence of circumstances that led to a major fiasco. But why hasn’t this been foreseen by a big professional organisation like UNSW? (more…)

Questions on the UNSW ASIA debacle

Posted by Eric on May 24th, 2007

After three months in operation, the Singapore adventure of the University of New South Wales has come to an end. Another 22 million Singapore dollars down the drain. The decision to establish a branch campus in Singapore was taken in 2005 and already led to some commotion at that time (see this post). In 2005, UNSW from Australia and the University of Warwick from the UK were the only two foreign universities granted special status by the Singaporean Government (through its Economic Development Board, EDB) to set up a fully fledged independent teaching and research institution offering undergraduate degrees (the UNSW ASIA website has been taken down but click here for some info from the old website and here for some facts).

At that time, the senate of Warwick declined the offer of the Singapore government. The official reason for the Warwick senate to vote against the venture was the big financial risk. An additional reason however was the concern about the lack of academic freedom. UNSW had a different opinion, after all there was “no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in any country”.UNSW opened the doors of its Asia Campus at the beginning of the 2007 academic year, planning to reach a population of up to 15,000 students on the long term. But the campus will be closed down after only one semester:

Before making this decision, the University has explored an extensive range of options. However the enrollment numbers for 2007 did not meet our expectations, and this has caused us to revise our projections. The decision to close down is a difficult one but it is the prudent course of action to take.

UNSW Vice Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer inherited the situation when he became VC in 2006. In a press conference in the Straits Times video news he explains the UNSW decision to pull out (see the whole video here):

The economics of the campus, without significant support made it impossible to continue. While we had support for the initial concept from the EDB, as the enrollment played out and as the concept had to be changed, the risk of the venture increased.

The Economic Development Board stated that it regrets the decision of UNSW. Mr Ko Kheng Hwa, Managing Director, EDB said:

We regret that UNSW has decided to close the Singapore campus. EDB has been fully committed and has worked closely with UNSW from day one towards the establishment of its Singapore campus. EDB will push ahead with our efforts to realise Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse vision. We are fully committed to developing Singapore into a premier education hub comprising a rich diversity of high quality education institutions and programmes from all over the world.

UNSW Asia had only 140 students enrolled in its first semester, 100 of them being Singapore residents. The University had a target of 300 students for the first year. This all leaves me with two big questions:

1. What is the real reason? If the target was 300 and the enrollment was 140, would you stop an operation – that has been planned for two years and in which 17.5 million Australian dollars is invested – just after a few months? Of course not! This is just too abrupt. After investing this amount, you would at least try for a few years. Somehow I have the idea that there is more going on, but I can’t figure out what it is.

2. Public universities and their private ventures. I am sure that UNSW and UNSW Asia keep separate books. But somehow UNSW, an Australian public university, will be affected by the costs of the Singaporese adventure. This discussion has come up in relation to the South African branch campus of Monash university as well. It clearly shows the risk of letting public organizations operate privately overseas. Of course, UNSW will argue that their Australian activities will not suffer from the UNSW Asia debacle. But the money has to come from somewhere. The costs are even likely to rise because UNSW has been so decent to offer their UNSW Asia students a place at UNSW in Sydney and will make scholarships available.

Two pressing questions. Whether we will ever know the answer to the first one? I don’t know. But I hope the second one will be discussed because it addresses a fundamental issue.

UPDATE: look at this recent post for some explanations

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