Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another one closes

Last year, it was Johns Hopkins. I wonder how much money the tax payers have lost this time.

University of New South Wales Singapore campus to shut in June

By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia

Posted: 23 May 2007 1715 hrs

SINGAPORE: The University of New South Wales will close its campus in Singapore next month.

The announcement came less than two months after its grand opening. The school says it is running into financial problems because enrolment was lower than expected.

Its target was 300 students in its first semester. But it only got 148 students, 100 of whom are Singaporeans.

Students have already paid their fees, which range between S$26,000 and S$29,000 a year. UNSW says these students will be offered a place at its home campus in Sydney. There will also be scholarships to help with the cost of travel and accommodation. The decision to shut the campus comes as a shock to many students. The scholarships offered are supposed to be based on needs and not on academic achievements. But most students Channel NewsAsia spoke to were not quite convinced. Many had chosen the Singapore campus because they could not afford to go to Australia.

And though the school is helping out financially with the scholarships, it is not clear at this point in time how much exactly the school is willing to fork out. Still, the university claims that about half its students have indicated that they would like to go to Australia to continue their studies. Most of the local students who enrolled in the university come from the polytechnics. “It’s quite an inappropriate time, with our exams coming as well. If they decide to close down after one semester, they should have done adequate research to see if this whole university was even feasible in the first place,” said a student. “Knowing that the school is a creditable one, it is unbelievable that this thing can happen,” said another.

“I do not know what is the next step I need to do. To transfer to another school or go to Sydney? What is the option for us? Now, they have not known what are the private institutes we can go to to transfer in Singapore,” said a third student.

The school says that it is also in talks with local institutions and other universities in the region to offer these students a place to continue their education. But this is little consolation for the 48 foreign students who wanted an Australian degree and Singapore cost of living. “The school is offering us to go back to Australia to study, but I cannot go back. I end up paying something like $30,000 and I can do nothing. I’ve spent the money and yah, it’s pretty hard for me now,” said a student from Hong Kong. ”I hope not to go back to Indonesia. I’m seeking to go overseas because it’s a better education but now this happens, it’s a bit confusing for me,” said a student from Indonesia. “Before this, I was in Los Angeles. I was going to go to UNSW in Sydney but I ended up coming here because Singapore is also a good place. It’s a good name, it’s a good school, so I thought I’ll give this a try, moved everything from LA, came here….I don’t know what I’m going to do right now,” said a student from the US. UNSW has already invested over S$22 million (AUD$17.5 million) in its Singapore campus. It was invited by Singapore’s Economic Development Board in 2004 to establish what would have been the first private comprehensive university in Singapore.

The EDB refuses to reveal how much it invested in the school. The episode is clearly damaging to Singapore’s aim to be a global schoolhouse. But the EDB, which drives the global schoolhouse initiatives, believes it will still reach its target of attracting 150,000 international students by 2015. There are currently 80,000 foreign students in Singapore.

Aw Kah Peng, EDB’s Assistant Managing Director, said: “The learning point is that we have to continue working very hard. Truly, with every institution, it will be different. With each one, we have to put everything we can to think about all these issues of whether we can make it work, how long it will take for us to make it work, what will it take for us to make it work. We will then have to step forward on that basis.”

UNSW says it would have stayed on in Singapore if it has been allowed to scale down its student enrolment numbers to 2,000 students by 2012. But this would be quite far from the original bargain with the EDB which had set a target of 15,000 UNSW students by 2020.

The UNSW closure does not mean that the EDB will no longer work with the school.

The EDB says there are many areas of cooperation between UNSW and Singapore which are mutually beneficial.

These include foundation schooling for university entry, research collaborations, University of New South Wales school competitions and joint programmes with Singapore institutions.

EDB says it will continue to pursue these areas and strengthen its relationship with UNSW.

Professor Fred Hilmer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, said: "Last year....we actually had much stronger demand in Sydney than we had in the previous four years. I think one of the things we've learnt, and it's really for Singapore to draw its own lesson, is that geography is really important. When a student says he wants an Australian degree, what he really means is, 'I want the experience of living in Sydney', and not just in educational terms but riding a surfboard, doing the other things a lot of students in a campus like ours, do."

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