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Yale University is building foundations in Southeast Asia, but critics say its liberal concepts won’t work in Singapore’s censored state

Yale’s highly-anticipated Ivy League-backed liberal arts college in Singapore is on track for completion later this year, but whether the university’s venture into the tightly controlled island state will be worth the investment is spawning a lively debate.

Working with the National University of Singapore (NUS), the multimillion-dollar Yale project is an ambitious deal expected to reaffirm the more than 300-year-old American university’s image as a prestigious, global institution.
Yet bringing Yale’s belief in an educational environment that encourages top students to question, analyse, challenge and critique beyond the status quo could prove a misfit in an authoritarian state with heavy restrictions on public speech and assembly, according to elite scholars.
“Yale’s motto is ‘lux et veritas’, or ‘light and truth’,” said Michael Fischer, a Yale professor of computer science, as reported by Reuters. “We’re going into a place with severe curbs on light and truth… We’re redefining the brand in a way that is contrary to Yale’s values.”
Other educators within Singapore have dismissed censorship concerns, saying higher learning institutions are accepting of critical thinking even when it challenges the government.
Fuelling further concern for the viability of the project is the fact that Singapore has not always proved an ideal marketplace for higher education, despite having a relatively wealthy population. In recent years two renowned international universities have pulled out of the country because of low enrolment rates and financial trouble.
Yale officials have emphasised that the new institution is not a branch campus, but it will play a supporting role with NUS, and the degrees it issues will not be Yale degrees.
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