SINGAPORE: The University of New South Wales (UNSW) will close its campus in Singapore next month. The announcement came less than two months after its grand opening. The school said it was facing a financial shortfall of $15 million a year due to lower-than-anticipated student enrolment numbers. Its target was 300 students in its first semester. But it only got 148 students, 100 of whom are Singaporeans. If it were to continue building its campus in Changi, it would have to borrow $140 million. The school said both factors led to an unsustainable financial burden and it decided to call it quits in Singapore.
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.
UNSW has already invested over S$22 million (A$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 had said the school was expected to contribute at least $500 million a year to the economy in direct spending. 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. - CNA/ir