Singapore: Asian students who traditionally looked to English-speaking Western countries for higher education are increasingly turning closer to home -- to Singapore, educators say.
Backed by a government-led initiative to capture a slice of the great paper chase in Asia, Singapore has managed to woo more than 16 of the world’s leading schools to set up campuses as part of the city-state’s “Global Schoolhouse” ambition.
Singapore’s education blueprint aims to attract 150,000 foreign students by 2015 in an industry that has mainly been the turf of American and British institutions.
There are currently 80,000 foreign students in Singapore, up from 50,000 in 2001, mostly from Malaysia, Vietnam, China, India and South Korea, government figures show.
The country’s two main universities -- National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University -- are already held in high esteem by their regional peers but getting the world’s elite schools to run courses here has further raised the city-state’s academic standing, educators say.
“The splashy news coverage of several prominent foreign institutions entering Singapore has created visibility and awareness of Singapore as an alternative location for education, to the more traditional locations of the UK or US,” said Narayan Pant, dean of executive education at global graduate business school INSEAD.
“Singapore has become a credible alternative to those well-known locations, especially for people in the region,” he said.
Christopher Ziguras, associate professor of international studies at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said Singapore’s well-defined goal of catering to global demand for higher education has paid off.
He said the city-state has successfully planted itself as a serious rival to institutions in Australia and New Zealand, the two main Asia Pacific study destinations for Asian students. Singapore is also “taken very seriously by Australia and New Zealand as a competitor,” he told AFP.
INSEAD, which has a campus in France, was the first international business school to have a full-fledged Asian campus when the Singapore offshoot opened in 2000 offering MBA, executive MBA and PhD courses.
New York’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, whose alumni includes Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, is the latest to set up a base in Singapore. Its Asia campus opened in October.
With the likes of INSEAD and other luminaries including North Carolina’s Duke University offering specialised courses in Singapore, the city-state’s standing as a high-quality destination for study has increased tremendously, said Pant.
INSEAD’s decision to house its Asian campus in Singapore was logical given its cosmopolitan environment and strategic location in Asia, said Pant.
“Yes, China is a powerhouse and China is going to grow and India is growing, too, but those are very Chinese and very Indian stories,” he said.
“To us, the cosmopolitan environment of Singapore, great logistics and location between India and China made it an ideal place to invite the rest of the world to come and learn about Asia.”
Malaysian student Andrew Fan started his one-year MBA study in September at INSEAD’s Singapore campus. He says doing part of his course in the city-state allows him to market his Asian experience to prospective employers after he graduates.
“It is an opportunity to have the Asian and European experience. It allows us to broaden our horizon,” he said.
Expensive education and issues of academic freedom, deterrents
Fan, in his 30’s, paid 48,800 euros ($72,575) for his 10-month course and will do the other half of his study at INSEAD’s campus near Paris in January.
“In terms of looking for jobs, if you are serious about Asia Pacific you should be networking with executives here,” he said.
But not everyone has been so willing to enter the “Global Schoolhouse,” an initiative implemented by Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB).
Britain’s prestigious Warwick University abandoned plans in 2005 to open a campus. It cited concerns over academic freedom in Singapore which has strict censorship rules despite being one of Asia’s most advanced economies.
In May, the Singapore branch of Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) announced it would shut down.
Singapore had invited the institution to set up a local campus but in the end, it had to close “on business grounds,” the EDB said, adding the shutdown would not detract from Singapore’s “Global Schoolhouse” aims.
“The closure of UNSW Asia has neither affected our standing nor our aspirations to become an educational hub,” said Aw Kah Peng, EDB’s assistant managing director for industry development.
“EDB remains committed to realizing its Global Schoolhouse vision and we will continue to bring in new projects and build on the strong base that we already have,” she said.
On whether academic freedoms are a concern for the foreign schools being wooed by EDB, Aw said: “We value healthy and rigorous academic discussions and debates that are objective and grounded on facts.
“So far, the many international faculty members and students of the institutions here have found Singapore’s academic and living environment extremely conducive to pursue their full academic endeavors.”