Freedom row fails to sink Warwick's Singapore plan

October 21, 2005

Warwick University set out to renegotiate plans for a £300 million campus in Singapore despite a decision by its governing council not to proceed with the original proposal because of staff concerns about the city state's record on free speech.

Warwick's Senate of senior academics voted to reject the plans for a campus for 10,000 students in Singapore late last week because the university had failed to secure reassurances from the Singapore authorities that its staff and students would not face restrictions on academic freedom in place in the state.

The governing council this week reluctantly agreed that the plans should not proceed "in the absence of a positive commitment from the academic community".

But the council added in its formal resolution on the proposal on Tuesday night: "The council reaffirms Warwick's commitment to development in Asia as an integral part of its international strategy.

"Council welcomes the work undertaken on the feasibility study and the strong support of the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore.

"Council further resolves that the university continues discussions within the academic community and with the EDB with a view to bringing forward an alternative plan for academic development in Singapore that will command the support of the Senate and the Council."

David VandeLinde, Warwick's vice-chancellor, was not available for comment this week. He was said to be in frantic negotiations with the Singapore authorities to keep the deal alive.

Kenneth Tan, director of the services cluster at Singapore's EDB, said: "We welcome Warwick to continue its study into the viability of setting up a presence in Singapore.

"EDB will continue to work closely with Warwick to ensure its success here.

To date, we have attracted some 16 leading universities from the US, China, Japan, Europe, India and Australia, which have called Singapore home.

"These institutions include global brand names such as (business school) Insead, the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke, Waseda and Shanghai Jiaotong (universities) to name a few."

Warwick says in a statement that Professor VandeLinde had asked four pro vice-chancellors and the chair of the board of graduate studies to take forward discussions "Together, they will help to shape an alternative academic plan for Warwick's engagement in Singapore, building on the work carried out so far.

"Liaising with senior colleagues, they will be talking to academics across the university over the coming months to form a solid understanding of academic direction and the basis of the alternative plan."

Staff and students had expressed concern about the cost of the £300 million project, but the sticking point was Singapore's record on academic freedom.

Singapore requires international education institutions not to carry out activities that could be seen to interfere with domestic affairs. There are also limits on freedom of assembly, speech and the press.

A poll by student newspaper the Warwick Boar revealed strong opposition to the plans by students.

Some 43 per cent said it was "a bad idea, no good can come from it". A further 14 per cent said it was a "good idea, but could damage Warwick's reputation" and the same proportion thought it was a good idea but could represent too great a financial risk.

An editorial in Warwick the Magazine says the new campus is key to realising the university's vision "to take its place among the elite group of leading universities from across the world".

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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