The death of a university campus

After three months in Singapore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) has announced that it would be closing down its campus in
Singapore, UNSW Asia.
 The school said it was facing a financial shortfall of $15 million a year due to lower-than-anticipated student enrolment numbers.The EDB refuses to reveal how much it invested in the school.

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. Apparently out of the 300 that UNSW has originally targeted, only 148 registered to study in this new campus. Not only was that, 100 of the 148 students from
Singapore and local students. This was vastly different from the original agreement with Economic Development Board (EDB) that the student population for UNSW Asia would be 30% local students and 70% foreign students. It is the second university to have failed in setting up a private university that would have the same standard as the three university giant in Singapore (SMU, NTU, NUS) following Warwick’s declining of the invitation to set up a similar campus in
Singapore.
 

Channel News Asia’s TV report and video cast showed the Vice-Chancellor of UNSW, Fred Hilmer, giving his take on the likely reason for the shortfall in enrolment. At the press conference, he said,Last year, the year we started to market here, we actually had much stronger demand in Sydney than we’d had in the last 4 years, and I think one of the things we’d learnt — and it is really for Singapore to draw its own lessons — is that geography is really important.When a student says I want an Australian degree, what they really mean is ‘I want the experience of living in Sydney’, not just in educational terms but riding the surfboards and doing the things that, at a campus like ours, a lot of students do.Apparently, Fred Hilmer thinks that the failure of the UNSW Asia is due to the lack of both social and geographical constraint in
Singapore. Interestingly, it was the approximate reason Warwick gave when EDB extended invitation to UNSW and Warwick to set up a campus in
Singapore. However, is that the main contributing factor in UNSW Asia’s demise?
 UNSW itself is a world class research university not far below National University of Singapore and at least as strong as Nanyang IT. However UNSW Asia is a different story. In fact Simon Marginson, a professor in higher education at the
University of
Melbourne, said UNSW Asia was never in the university’s interests because it was designed for “B” students, while the best students went to
Singapore’s own universities.
This is true to a certain extent. Unlike many countries in the world, the best schools are not in the private sector. In fact, most parents in
Singapore have the view that only public schools are good schools. Private school students are given a stigma as poor students. Therefore, any university barring the three local universities are considered to be a “bad” school that people enroll in as a last alternative. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many of the students were rejected from the three universities. As said in a forum, private schools are “expensive places where no one studies and ultimately fail a lot of times” With such a reputation, not much foreign students that can make it to other university would choose UNSW Asia.
For foreign students, they want to study in a school that is of a certain reputation. Seeing how badly the campus is being viewed by the locals, who in their right mind would enroll in such a school? Anyway since they are paying a huge amount of fee both in living expenses and school fees, if there is no difference, who would study in Singapore than
Australia.
Therefore, I feel that EDB’s project into making this a foreign student magnet was already doomed from the start. I feel that to attract students from other countries, we must first set up an example first, stop making it a foreign student only school but encourage some of our best students in the new schools. With a growing reputation, attracting foreign students would be of no small problem.   

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~ by rojakgeekiness on May 28, 2007.

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