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Another View on the Yale-NUS College

Two weeks have passed since I have written my article, Reflections on Yale-NUS College, the University Scholars Program (USP) and the Status Quo. I have had the opportunity of corresponding via email with some of you (KRC readers) on the issue, and through these various correspondences I must say I have changed my perspective on the issue. Now, I would like to offer another view on this YNC venture.

Changing Gears

Firstly, I think it necessary to give a brief summary of my previous article. Some had misunderstood it as a flat-out critique of the YNC project; that is not so.

My critique of the YNC project was that as things stand, it seemed that there was no substantive innovation in the educational curriculum. I noted the striking similarities with the University Scholars Program, which has been around since 2001.

Then, I proceeded a critique about our ‘brand consciousness’ when it comes to tertiary education. I had written, “It is harder to get into an Indian Institute of Technology, but all we Singaporeans really want to apply to is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” I was criticizing our obsession with “Ivy-league” universities and Western institutions (including my own) and I saw that as the status quo. This was a critique on our society (and I include myself within it), not on the YNC venture.

Yet even then, I did not give due regard to the fact that these ‘Western institutions’ do have their merits, are very advanced in many ways and we have much to learn from them.

There are two separate issues – the brand-obsession, and the substantive differences. NUS does have areas in which improvements can be made, and for these we can turn to esteemed western universities (not necessarily the ‘branded’ ones) for inspiration.

For example, the University of Arizona, where I am spending 2 semesters on exchange, has excellent research programs and faculty members.

My geography professor, Professor Michael Bonine brings years of experience from doing fieldwork in Iran to the classroom – using, for example, old fashioned slide-projectors (shown below) to show us his own private collection photos of Iran, Syria and Egypt from his fieldwork and travels in the 1970s-1990s.

Prof Bonine tells us that the image quality using slide-projectors is far superior than digital images; I myself have never seen a slide-projector in my life until his class. There is an old-world charm whenever we prepare the slide-projector for a viewing; the projector starts whirring to life, and every time we switch to a new slide it grunts irritably, like an old cat.

Once, Professor Bonine had also presented his whole collection of old banknotes from Iran (example below).

He had managed to scan the majority of his collection and then uploaded them into a powerpoint presentation, whereupon he went through the history of banknotes from Iran and of the Imperial Bank of Persia, pointing out with his laser beam particular motifs, signatures, and other features of these banknotes. He also let us see some of the notes (the really big ones) in real life, holding it up to a room full of impressed students and faculty members. That day, I learned the existence and meaning of the word ‘notaphily‘.

1 Comment

  1. Jian Hui says

    Let’s wait and see if this programme will actually work out. Academic freedom is hard to find in Singapore, and the funny thing is that, as long as you propose something a bit more deviant, you will be rejected. First hand experience though.

    It is always difficult to challenge the status quo and let’s hope that this programme will be a first step for Singapore to liberalise herself as a vibrant city that embraces both top-down and bottom-up approaches.

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