What form will Singapore’s fourth university take?

November 5, 2007 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

European entrepreneurial spirit for S’pore’s fourth university?

Tuesday • November 6, 2007

Lee U-Wen
u-wen@mediacorp.com.sg

YOU HAVE completed your internships and it’s time to return to the classroom. But your professor tells you: Go put your knowledge to good use and start your own company right away.

So, you take some seed money from the university and run your venture for a year or two. If things don’t work out, your place in the university is always there for you to continue where you left off.

As far-fetched as this risk-free deal may seem, such an option is already available in some European universities today. And it is one path of education Singapore’s fourth publicly funded university could offer its students, to foster a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

This was the view of Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew, who spoke to reporters yesterday after having led a team on study trips to Europe and the United States to explore possible university models.

They visited applied universities such as the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and American liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Swathmore College.

 

The Government has not decided whether it will build a fourth varsity from scratch or expand the three existing local universities. But Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui said the former option could offer greater flexibility.

“Sometimes, these (schemes) can be harder to inject into an existing institution, but if you start it anew, the culture and environment is quite different,” he said.

The committee led by RAdm (NS) Lui is now busy meeting stakeholders here to get as much feedback as possible. Yesterday’s session with 22 students from the five polytechnics threw up much food for thought. Some wondered about the reputation the fourth university would have and the value employers would place on their degrees.

Others, like Mr Loke Teng Chung, 21, a second-year accounting and finance student at Nanyang Polytechnic, hoped the admission criteria for diploma holders would be less stringent. “It would be good to look at the student as an individual, what his interests and passion are, rather than just focusing on grades alone,” he said.

This was one suggestion that RAdm (NS) Lui said would be studied carefully as the Government looks to ensure 30 per cent of each cohort gets a publicly-funded university place by 2015, up from 23 per cent today.

“It’s worthwhile for us to re-look the criteria. Our three local universities, in terms of admissions, could be skewed towards looking at academic qualifications and results,” he said.

When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced in August the setting up of a fourth university, one model he mentioned was a liberal arts college — small private institutions offering a broad-based humanities education.

These colleges are popular overseas because of their low student-to-faculty ratio and the increased opportunities to take part in high-level research.

But RAdm (NS) Lui hinted he was not convinced such a college would be financially viable at this point.

“Liberal arts education is very expensive, and much is funded by endowments. Students pay fees of about US$45,000 (a year) including board and lodging, but the true cost is US$80,000. A good number of students (in the US) are on financial assistance,” he said.

The committee will have to first size up the level of demand from Singaporeans, before deciding if such a model would be worth the money.

“We don’t want to invest a lot and then have people say they would rather go to the Ivy League schools or take up traditional disciplines. My impression is that the mindshare of liberal arts education in Singapore is still not very high,” he said.

Other key groups such as parents, junior college students and employers will be engaged on how they would like to see the university sector grow. Later this month, an online forum will be set up for the public.

The committee’s decision is expected to be made by next August.

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Entry filed under: college, education, Singapore.

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