'Debasing the Brand'

UNLV is the latest Western university to end its branch campus in Singapore -- at least in its current form.

January 16, 2013

The University of Nevada at Las Vegas will not be renewing its contract with the Singapore Institute of Technology to offer a bachelor of science in hospitality management to SIT’s students. UNLV will accept one additional class of students into its two-year accelerated program prior to the expiration of the current contract in 2015.

Richard C. Linstrom, UNLV’s associate dean for Singapore and managing director for UNLV Singapore Limited, said the two institutions couldn’t agree on tuition rates and the academic direction of the program.  

Under the arrangement with SIT, UNLV delivers its hospitality management program to graduates of five different polytechnic institutions, who typically transfer in between 9 and 24 credits toward a UNLV degree. Linstrom said that UNLV receives about $33,000 per Singaporean student enrolled in the program. This contrasts with the $58,000 UNLV charges non-Singaporeans to enroll in the SIT-UNLV program, and the approximately $80,000 UNLV would stand to receive if an international student came to Las Vegas for the undergraduate degree.

“Whether you want to talk about equity with U.S. students or you want to talk about debasing the brand, or you want to talk about having resources to enhance the program here, or you want to talk about making sure the degrees are equivalent, those financials, even though we’re able to break even now, did not look sustainable going into the future,” Linstrom said. He acknowledged that faculty have raised questions about whether the two-year accelerated program is in fact the academic equivalent to three-plus years of coursework in Las Vegas.

“I can’t really go into the details of the negotiations, but in general we were looking to have students spend more time in Las Vegas” -- currently students in the SIT-UNLV program come to Las Vegas for a five-week summer session – “we were looking to have a three-year rather than a two-year program, and we were looking to have more money,” Linstrom said. He declined to discuss exact figures but said UNLV wanted to receive at least double the amount it is currently receiving in tuition and fees.

“I think in retrospect there was no possibility that the partnership would be renewed,” Linstrom said. Desmond Soon, the director of corporate communications for SIT, was more circumspect. “We didn’t come to agreement to the new terms that were being put on the table, so we decided it was mutually beneficial for both parties not to renew,” Soon said.

SIT was established by the Singaporean government in 2009 to provide a path for polytechnic graduates to earn government-subsidized four-year degrees offered by overseas universities. SIT has partnerships with 10 overseas institutions that offer one to six programs each. The Technical University of Munich offers bachelor's degrees in chemical and electrical engineering, for example, while Trinity College Dublin offers degrees in physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Other SIT partners are the Culinary Institute of America, DigiPen Institute of Technology, the Glasgow School of Art, Newcastle University, the Universities of Glasgow and Manchester, and Wheelock College.

UNLV first set up its branch in Singapore in 2006 and operated as a stand-alone institution for several years before associating with SIT. “[The relationship] looked good at the time just because it guaranteed enrollments, and there was always an issue here concerning enrollments,” Linstrom said. About 650 students are currently enrolled in UNLV’s program.

"In Singapore, the costs have escalated dramatically, which obviously puts pressure on us, because we’re self-supporting and can receive no money from UNLV or the state of Nevada. The project had to be self-supporting from the get-go and also we have a major loan from the Singapore government to pay back.” Linstrom said that the university is on track to repay its approximately $3 million loan from Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) by 2015.

After that, he said it’s an open question whether UNLV will remain in Singapore in any capacity. The university currently only has government approval to run programs in hotel administration and hospitality management, and would like to expand beyond that niche. In August it proposed offering a 2+2 program in engineering, but it has not heard back from the Ministry of Education regarding its proposal – and doesn’t necessarily expect to at this point, Linstrom said.

"We are going to fulfill our financial and educational obligations all the way through 2015, and we are going to look at the full range of possibilities in Asia,” he said, leaving open the possibility that UNLV will establish a branch elsewhere on the continent. “UNLV is not retreating from Asia, but we certainly are going to have some kind of redeployment, reconfiguration.”

UNLV came to Singapore under the auspices of the “Global Schoolhouse” initiative, which was launched in 2002 with the goal of attracting offshore universities and bringing 150,000 international students to the city-state. At last count, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education identified 18 foreign branch campuses in Singapore, including Duke University’s, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s, and INSEAD’s. In addition to the established branches, the National University of Singapore has joined with Yale University to create a liberal arts college, slated to open this fall.

However, some high-profile universities have opted to close their branches in Singapore, including the University of New South Wales, Johns Hopkins University, and, most recently, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which announced this fall that its Singapore campus was financially unsustainable and would be closing at some point over the next couple of years. 

Peter Waring is the acting pro-vice chancellor for international at the University of Newcastle, in Australia, and the deputy CEO of its Singapore campus (note that the University of Newcastle is a different institution from Newcastle University, above). He pointed out that for both Tisch and UNLV the period of subsidy by the Singaporean government had ended and both faced "the cold-hearted reality" of making it on their own (and repaying the EDB loans, which, in Tisch's case, are reported by Singapore's government to exceed $9 million). 

Waring also said that the withdrawals of Tisch and UNLV should be seen within the context of bigger changes in Singapore’s higher education strategy. Waring pointed to written comments made by Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry in October that lay out these changes: "Since 2009, the Global Schoolhouse initiative shifted its focus towards building industry-relevant manpower capabilities and helping to attract, develop and retain talent for our economy as global competition for talent has intensified,“ the minister, Lim Hng Kiang, said. “Going forward, while the education sector remains an important part of our economy, the Global Schoolhouse initiative will emphasize quality of education and relevance to the economy, and not student numbers or GDP share.”

“Singapore is a highly competitive market,” Waring said. “There are a number of participants as a result of the effective work of EDB. At the same time there has been a qualitative change in the direction of the Global Schoolhouse strategy: it’s not so much focused on maximizing the number of international students but on serving the local population.

“I think that’s going to have implications in the long term.”



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