Yale-NUS College

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Yale-NUS College
Established 2011
Type Private; Liberal arts college
President Pericles Lewis
Academic staff 50 [1]
Location Singapore
Colors Blue and Orange          
Website yale-nus.edu.sg

Yale-NUS College is a liberal arts college in Singapore. Yale-NUS was established in 2011 as a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore. It is the first liberal arts college in Singapore and one of the few in Asia. The first class, the class of 2017, consisted of 157 students entering in 2013. Over several years, the college intends to increase its student body to 1,000 students and its teaching faculty to 100.[2]

Admission to the inaugural class began in 2012 and took place over four rounds, with an acceptance rate slightly below 4%.[3] According to Yale-NUS College, the yield for the class entering in 2013 is 52% [3] and 60% of the student body comprises Singaporeans from local schools such as Serangoon Junior College, Pioneer Junior College and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Apart from Singapore University of Technology and Design, Yale-NUS is the only other college in Singapore to follow a holistic admissions process similar to that followed by Yale and other American Universities. Yale-NUS students are granted either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Sciences (BS) degree by NUS.[4] The college currently offers 15 majors. It is the first institution outside New Haven, Connecticut, that Yale University has developed in its 300 year history, making Yale the first US Ivy League school to establish a college bearing its name in Asia. Like both Yale and NUS, Yale-NUS follows a need-blind admission policy and offers financial aid on a full-need basis. Unlike Yale, however, Yale-NUS distributes scholarships to some admitted students based on academic merit.[2]

The college styles itself as "A community of learning, founded by two great universities, in Asia, for the world" and has placed this slogan in promotional materials as well as painting it on a central wall in its temporary campus on the NUS grounds.[5]

The project has been criticized by some Yale faculty [6] and alumni concerned that the relative lack of political freedom and restrictions on speech and protest in Singapore would negatively impact the rights of students. In compliance with Singaporean law, Yale-NUS does not allow chapters of political parties to be formed on campus.[7] Initial students and faculty have cited the existence and prominence of independent student societies, such as an LGBT advocacy organization, as evidence the Singapore government does not intend to interfere with student affairs.[8]


National University of Singapore
Yale University, New Haven

The concept for the college was first discussed by Yale President Richard Levin and National University of Singapore President Tan Chorh Chuan at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.[9] Eighteen months later, Levin and Yale Provost Peter Salovey circulated to the Yale faculty a prospectus for a liberal arts college in Singapore, outlining its vision, planning process, concerns, and an invitation for several open discussions. Among the given reasons for the initiative were "develop[ing] a novel curriculum spanning Western and Asian cultures" and better preparing students for "an interconnected, interdependent global environment"[10]

Yale-NUS College was officially launched in April 2011 with a ceremony attended by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong[11] but did not enroll its first class of students until 2013.

In his speech, Lee said that, "This Yale-NUS College will give high-calibre students from Singapore another option to pursue degree at home, instead of going overseas. We hope it will also attract top students from the region and some of these, after graduation, we hope will have had fond memories and seen good opportunities and will strike roots in Singapore. Some may not, but even if they go home or go somewhere else, they will form a valuable network of friends of Singapore in their home countries and around the world."

In May 2012, the leadership team was announced,.[12] In July 2012, the College held its ground-breaking ceremony.[13] That summer began the incubation period for the newly recruited faculty, with two intensive two-week workshops in New Haven and Singapore. For the 2012-13 academic year, most faculty were in residence in New Haven to develop the common curriculum, courses for the majors, electives, and planning for academic policies. In December, in their first vote as a collegial body, the Yale-NUS faculty unanimously approved the following Core Statement on Freedom of Expression: "We are firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms-a central tenet of liberal arts education. There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution." [14] In May 2013, it was announced that an additional dozen faculties have joined, including those tenured professors recruited from Smith College, Ginnell College, and the University of Iowa, and University of California, Santa Cruz.

Like other “Asian tigers,” Singapore reevaluated its plans for economic growth in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis and concluded that a more dynamic, innovative economy was necessary. Its leaders believed changes in the educational system were required to provide a citizenry capable of supporting these new modes of activity.[15] Singapore’s ambition in higher education is expressed in the Minister of Education's phrase to be "the Boston of the East." [16] To that end, higher education in Singapore has a history of establishing ties with leading foreign universities: Duke University partnered with NUS to create Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; Singapore University of Technology and Design is developed with the help of MIT and Zhejiang University; and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music is a collaboration between NUS and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Other institutions who have campuses in Singapore include University of Chicago's Booth Business School, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Asia, and INSEAD.[citation needed]

Throughout his 20-year tenure, Levin sought to expand Yale’s international reach, such as establishing the Yale World Fellows program which brings in emerging leaders from around the world, and the now defunct exchange program with Peking University in Beijing.[17] Although Yale has a long history with Asia, particularly its Yale-China Association, this is its first effort in a joint overseas project.

Leadership and faculty[edit]

Rendition of the Yale-NUS College Campus


  • President Pericles Lewis,[18] Professor of comparative literature and English at Yale University
  • Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Professor Tan Tai Yong, Historian and Vice-Provost (Student Life) at National University of Singapore
  • Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn, A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale.[19]


The inaugural faculty comprises roughy 50 professors from around the world, chosen from over 3,000 applicants, representing the major fields of scholarly research.[20] The school will not have traditional academic departments; instead, faculty will belong to one of three broad divisions: science, social science, or humanities in order to promote inter-disciplinary work. In the summer of 2012, the new faculty attended two intensive workshops in New Haven and Singapore to discuss plans for the new college and develop its core interdisciplinary curriculum.[21] Most of the faculty were in residence in New Haven for the 2012-13 academic year to develop the courses and majors. The total planned faculty size will be about 100, supplemented by visiting faculty from Yale.[22] Each year, faculty from Yale will arrive at Yale-NUS on a visiting basis and teach for one semester.

Governing board

The governing board is composed of trustees half-appointed by Yale, and half-appointed by NUS. Members include:[23]


Yale-NUS is highly selective[citation needed], admitting less than 4% of undergraduate applicants in the 2012–13 admissions cycle (for the Class of 2017). The College follows an admission timeline similar but modified to the process pursued by colleges and universities in the US. There is an early action cycle followed by two regular decision cycles. Yale-NUS has a no loan policy and provides need-blind admission to local and international students.[citation needed]

The College admitted 157 students to its first batch, slightly above the estimated 150 student planned intake probably owing to a higher yield rate than expected. In its selection criteria, Quinlan[who?] stressed that, "Alongside the holistic nature of our process, we also closely consider each individual applicant in his or her context. We understand the differences in opportunities at different schools and in different countries. We ask ourselves the following questions: ‘Has the student made the most of the resources around them?’ Because that student will make the most of the incredible opportunities available at Yale-NUS College."[24] Thus, while academic achievement as reflected in examinations grades is a primary consideration, interviews, recommendations, essays and extracurricular accomplishments are also given significant weight in the process. Eventually Yale-NUS hopes to grow its class size to 250 students over the next few years, leveraging on the immense interest and high caliber of the applicant pool. For admission to the Batch of 2017, admission began in 2011 and took place over four rounds, Round 0, Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3.

In all, Yale-NUS attracted more than 11,400 applications from over 130 countries.[3] The acceptance rate of the inaugural class is under 4 percent (<4%) [3] making the admission process comparable in selectivity to both Yale University and the most competitive faculties of National University of Singapore, and making it one of the most selective colleges in the world, as compared to Harvard (5.8%), Stanford (5.7%), Columbia (6.89%) and Princeton (7.4%).[25]

According to a press-release by the Yale-NUS College Administration, the overall yield rate is 52%[3] which is comparable to top liberal arts colleges in the US such as Swarthmore (40%)[26] and Williams(46%)[27] as well as some ivy league schools and top universities like Dartmouth (54.5%),[28] Cornell (53%) [29] Columbia (56.7%),[30] Harvard (82%), Stanford (79%) and Princeton (67%).[needs update]

In an interview with the Kent Ridge Commons, Jeremiah Quinlan, the first Dean of Admissions, said, "In this inaugural batch, we’ve offered places to student body presidents, nationally ranked athletes, entrepreneurs who have set up non-profit organizations and their companies, math and physics Olympiad winners, future journalists and musicians."[24] In the fall of 2012, the College began accepting application for the Batch of 2017 from Singapore and the rest of the world. The admissions staff began a series of international recruitment events, spanning North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Students were allowed to apply through the Common Application, Yale-NUS portal and those who chose to apply to Yale College also had the option to share their application with Yale-NUS.

Class profile[edit]

Of the 157 students admitted, 87 are female while 70 are male students. The median SAT Score of the class of 2017 was 1440. The 75th percentile for Critical Reading (CR) is 760/800 and the 75th percentile for Math is 780/800 comparable to Ivy League schools and top universities like Cornell (740, 760),[31] Brown (760,770),[32] Duke (750,780) [33] and Georgetown (740, 750)

26 nationalities from six continents have been represented in the first batch. 97 members of the inaugural class will be Singaporean (62%), while the rest are internationals, making Yale-NUS have one of largest international student populations in terms of percentage of total students. Thirty-two of the students hail from Asia, Australia and New Zealand, while another 11 are from Europe, Africa, and South America. More than 10% of the student body comes from North America with 13 students from the United States and 4 from Canada.


From the summer of 2012 to the spring of 2013, the Yale-NUS faculty meet in Singapore and New Haven to design the curriculum of the college. They studied previous experiments in higher education in various parts of the world and the history of the liberal arts; invited scholars with different perspectives to lead discussions about pedagogical and educational issues; and read, reflected, discussed, and debated with one another about a wide range of matters, from narrow questions of textual analysis and scientific demonstration to the broadest issues arising in college education.[34]

In April 2013, the curriculum committee, chaired by Bryan Garsten, a Professor of Political Science at Yale, released their year-long study report. The curriculum design has been guided by the question: “What must a young person learn in order to lead a responsible life in this century?” Like most liberal arts colleges, there is a heavy emphasis on the importance of speaking and writing, and also of the visual and performing arts and other modes of engaging in substantive communication. As the report stated, "To encourage this sort of spontaneous, sustained and substantive engagement, the Yale-NUS College curriculum puts great emphasis on face-to-face encounters and on the practices of articulate communication appropriate for intellectual conversation."[35]

To that end, the founding instruction committee decided to implement a common curriculum, a set of interlinked courses for all students. Similar to the core curricula at Columbia University and University of Chicago, students will take the following set of courses in their first year of study: Literature and Humanities, Philosophy and Political Thought, Comparative Social Institutions, Scientific Inquiry, and Quantitative Reasoning. Unique in its pedagogy is an engagement both Western as well as Asian cultures. Broadly speaking, the first two years will give all students a broad foundation on which to build their more specialized work in the junior and senior years. Teaching will primarily take place in small, seminar- style classes, with a strong emphasis on intellectual engagement and interaction. In this teaching environment, the habits of wonder, critical inquiry, and creative thinking will be cultivated.

In Philosophy & Political Thought, students will explore writings by ancient philosophers — the Roman Cicero, the Chinese Sun Tzu, and St. Augustine of Hippo. What do the attitudes of these different thinkers tell us about modern international politics?

In Literature & the Humanities, students will dive into the origins of epics such as the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. Classes will see performances by modern Southeast Asian storytellers who use some of the ancient narrative techniques. Students will also explore the ways modern theater has been influenced by religious ritual, Shakespeare, Molière, Japanese Noh drama, Chinese opera, and Southeast Asian puppet theater.

Comparative Social Institutions will introduce students to the major institutions of society, government, and economy. This course will train students to think critically and in an informed manner about the way these institutions shape the lives of individuals and groups.

Scientific Inquiry will emphasize how scientific knowledge is obtained, supported and challenged, an understanding of which is crucial for all citizens of the modern world, rather than focusing on techniques or specific knowledge, as is generally done in introductory science courses.


Students will choose their majors at the end of their second year. Current, there are 14 major fields of study:

Anthropology, Arts & Humanities, Economics, Environmental Studies, Global Affairs, History, Life Sciences, Literature, Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Philosophy, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Physical Sciences, Psychology, Urban Studies

38% of the courses will be the common curriculum, 31% required by the major, and 31% electives and prerequisites for the major.

Week Seven:

During the seventh week of school for Yale-NUS’s inaugural class, students left campus to participate in a weeklong project designed to provide them with hands-on research experiences. Instead of attending their regular classes, Yale-NUS students took part in one of several projects that brought them outside the traditional academic setting to promote “interdisciplinary and active learning.” The initiative, entitled Learning Across Boundaries, came as part of the Yale-NUS faculty’s broader effort to blend experiential and traditional learning in the Singaporean college’s curriculum.[36] Some groups left Singapore: one traveled to Banda Aceh to explore the city devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Other groups went to Greece, to Bali, and to Malaysia. Some stayed within Singapore: one explored the communities of migrant labor, while another considered the variety of local religious experience.

Joint and associated programs[edit]

Upon graduation, students will have several options for further study: they can pursue a Double Degree program with NUS Law or a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Yale.[37] Students will receive special consideration to be admitted in the Silver Scholars Program of the Yale School of Management. The program provides the unique opportunity to enter the Yale MBA program immediately after undergraduate study to move more quickly toward career goals. Duke-NUS, Singapore’s first US-style graduate-entry medical school, has also expressed interest in admitting Yale-NUS graduates for their Doctor of Medicine (MD), PhD and MD/PhD degree programs.[38]

Residential life[edit]

Yale-NUS College's central courtyard
A courtyard at Yale-NUS

Yale-NUS's student life is modelled on the residential colleges of Yale. There will be three residential colleges of 330 students, each having its own dining hall, courtyard, student suites, sky-gardens, faculty residences, study-spaces, intramural teams, and butteries, informal student-run eateries that are a Yale tradition. Students live in suites of six single rooms. These small-scale communities are arranged vertically in residential towers, which contain both student suites and faculty apartments. Floors will be grouped into neighborhoods, each with its own skygarden, a landscaped outdoor space for high-rise buildings that was pioneered in Singapore.

The residential community will include a rector (equivalent to the position of a college master at Yale), a vice rector (a dean), faculty fellows, advisors, rector's aides, and distinguished visiting fellows. Students will expand their social and leadership skills while enjoying the support of “nested academic communities.”

Serving as the first Dean of Students is Kyle Farley, formerly Dean of Jonathan Edwards College at Yale. Brian McAdoo, a geologist and expert in environment students, formerly of Vassar College, has been appointed Rector, while Eduardo Lage-Otero, formerly of Trinity College, has been named Vice-Rector.

As the first freshmen transition into the collegiate living experience, they will be aided by Dean's Fellows, a group of recent college graduates picked from various higher educational backgrounds, including Amherst, Carleton, Princeton, Reed, Mt. Holyoke, Yale, and NUS.

In the summer of 2013, the inaugural class students visited Yale for a three-week immersion program.

It is believed the college's first society, Leones Luminantes, began in September 2013.[39] Since its genesis, the society has been responsible for a number of philanthropic acts including the gifting of classic literature and the delivery of a luxurious chocolate fondue fountain. To this day all members remain unknown.


Signature programmes within the new College include global opportunities such as student exchange programs, summer programmes, and research attachments; internship programs; a career counselling programme; and special leadership programmes. Every student at Yale-NUS is guaranteed an opportunity to study abroad or to have an overseas internship. Many employers, such as American Express, American Museum of Natural History, GE, Google, Microsoft, Singapore Airlines have already committed to providing internships for Yale-NUS students.


A view of the three residential colleges.

The Yale-NUS campus is currently under construction adjacent to NUS University Town and projected to be complete in January 2015 [40] When finished, it will consist of a central campus green flanked by academic and administrative buildings. The campus was designed by architectural firms Pelli Clark Pelli and Forum Architects (a Singaporean architecture studio), who state that "its architectural style blends the collegiate traditions of Yale with the Southeast Asian cultures through its modernist style ornamented by metalwork patterns inspired by southeast Asian textiles."[41]

At the main entrance, glass-enclosed stairwells and a colonnade are topped by an inward-sloping roof of grand scale. At the center of the roof is a square oculus, which during the wet season will send a cascade of rainwater into a large circular reflecting pool below. The heart of the campus is a lush garden and arboretum with six heritage trees and an eco-pond that will capture and filter rainwater.[42]

The campus is being designed to achieve the highest rating under the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark, Singapore’s benchmark for sustainable design. In addition to visible sustainable design strategies such as the eco-pond and the frequent use of natural ventilation, the campus will integrate advanced building systems for energy efficiency.


Since the announcement of its opening, Yale-NUS has received considerable attention. Observers in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education see Yale’s move as part of a larger movement of the globalization of higher education.[43][44] Yale faced criticism for being involved with the government of Singapore because of its restrictions on free speech and ban on homosexuality.[45] Fareed Zakaria, a host on CNN and former Yale trustee, supports the venture, saying that “Singapore has a great deal to learn from America, and NUS has a great deal to learn from Yale.” [46] Tommy Koh, former Singaporean Ambassador to the United Nations calls it a "timely and visionary initiative" [47]

Faculty expressed themselves in the pages of Yale Daily News. Seyla Benhabib, calling it a “naïve missionary sentiment,” asks, “Do we need to go to Singapore to advance interdisciplinarity and a revival of the liberal arts?”[48] The chairs of the faculty search committee responded, “the new college will require faculty to rethink their pedagogical assumptions and to consider such innovations as integrated and interactive approaches to science; writing across the curriculum; computation, computer simulations and interpretation of large data sets; and the honing of quantitative, communication and other skills.”[49] Howard Bloch says that “As a nexus between India, China and the West, Singapore’s location favors an important conceptual realignment of the humanities that will be a long time coming to the home campus in New Haven — that is, a synthesis of the ways that ideas and creative works of East and West intersect historically as well as conceptually with each other.”[50]

A group of professors critical of the project characterize the endeavor of “globalizing” a “specious one,” saying that the graduates “will have to be conformist, dissent-averse managers and executives who serve the global profit motive.”[51] Marvin Chun, the master of Berkeley College and educated in South Korea, disagreed, “Will Yale-NUS be denied to numerous students around the world like me who lack the hyper-talent or mega-resources needed to study abroad at a place like Yale?”[52]

Others are concerned that Yale-NUS would dilute the Yale name. For Michael Fischer, since Yale-NUS will not grant Yale degrees, the value of a New Haven degree becomes diminished, and that the joint governing board does not “make Yale-NUS a part of Yale any more than does Levin's service on the board of directors for American Express make American Express a part of Yale.”[53] Haun Saussy says that “It’s in the spirit of the motto “Lux et veritas” — my light is not diminished when my neighbor lights his candle at mine, and a truth becomes more powerful, not less, when it is shared.” [54]

The debate culminated In spring 2012, the Yale College faculty passed a resolution that stated, "We urge Yale-NUS to respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers; and to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society".[55] In the summer, prompted by a Wall Street Journal article stating that students will not be allowed to stage protests or form political parties, Human Rights Watch condemned the project, with deputy Asia director Phil Robertson saying "Yale is betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students at its new Singapore campus."[56][57] John Riady, an Associate Professor of Law at the Pelita Harapan University in Indonesia, defended the venture, stating that “Singapore and Asia are in the middle of great transitions, and Yale has an opportunity to shape that process and put its stamp on a rising continent. In fact, Yale would be doing the cause of liberty a disservice by dropping the project.”[58]

When Pericles Lewis was appointed president, he invoked John Stuart Mill’s statement from 1848, “It is hardly possible to overstate the value of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been one of the primary sources of progress. ”[59] Lewis pointed to the College's non-discrimination policy and policy on freedom of speech as examples of its defense of rights and freedoms.[60] In the final agreement between Yale and the Singapore Ministry of Education, both sides reached an agreement that "The College upholds the principles of academic freedom and open inquiry, essential core values in higher education of the highest caliber. Faculty and students in the College will be free to conduct scholarship and research and publish the results, and to teach in the classroom and express themselves on campus, bearing in mind the need to act in accordance with accepted scholarly and professional standards and the regulations of the College."[10]


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External links[edit]