By Kelly Burke Higher Education Reporter
October 26, 2005
The University of NSW has moved to allay fears about academic freedom and human rights at its planned $200 million-plus Singapore campus.
But university management has conceded it cannot guarantee protection of its academic staff in Singapore, given the city-state's harsh laws governing public comment and defamation.
UNSW is one of only two foreign universities granted special status by the Singaporean Government to set up fully fledged independent teaching and research institutions offering undergraduate degrees.
It expects to open the doors of its Changi campus, to be called UNSW Asia, to up to 15,000 students from early 2007.
Yesterday it said its dean of commerce and economics, Professor Greg Whittred would be the Singapore campus's first president (vice-chancellor).
However, the other overseas institution approved by Singapore, the University of Warwick in England, said last week it would not proceed with a full-scale $354 million university campus because of concerns about academic freedom and financial risk.
According to the student newspaper, the Warwick Boar, the university also had concerns about Singapore's ban on homosexuality and certain religious practices and about possible legal reprisals against academic-related comments "that might be seen as being outside the boundaries of political debate".
Under Singapore law, foreign institutions are not allowed to criticise local politics.
UNSW has already secured a State Government-endorsed bank loan of $113 million for the Singapore campus. But it will also receive about $80 million in capital works funding from the Singapore Government, a figure the university's deputy vice-chancellor (international and development), John Ingleson, has refused to confirm or deny, on the grounds that it is commercial-in-confidence.
Speaking from Singapore yesterday, Professor Ingleson said he had been assured by the Government there that students and academics would enjoy complete academic freedom on campus. [so when is the first edition of 'Gay Rights' due off the presses?]He dismissed concerns raised by the Warwick pull-out, arguing that UNSW had "a more nuanced view of how Singapore and [its] society worked". [Nuanced - Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, US State Department... Nuanced]
He conceded, however, that the university would be powerless to protect its academics should they fall foul of the Government over issues of public comment.
"There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in any country … in that sense, our staff and our students will be subject … off-campus to the laws of Singapore like anyone else," he said.
Professor Ingleson believed Warwick's decision was based on financial risk rather than concern about academic freedom. [sorry to burst your bubble but it clearly stated fears related to academic freedom]
He said UNSW was not exposed to the same risk as Warwick because the Australian university had closer ties with the region and a more firmly established brand name. [And we have a tighter grip on our academics.]