Red faces at Cambridge gala

April 14, 2006

V-c sits through attack by Singapore's ex-PM over treatment of foreign alumni

Cambridge University has suffered an embarrassing attack its treatment of overseas students from Singapore's founding Prime Minister.

At a gala event in Hong Kong last week to promote the university's £1 billion fundraising drive, Lee Kuan Kew, Singapore's first premier and a graduate of Cambridge, launched a scathing attack on his alma mater in front of Alison Richard, Cambridge's vice-chancellor.

Mr Lee was a guest speaker at the event, which was held to celebrate the university's 800th-anniversary fundraising campaign. He recounted the bad experiences of a Singaporean student who received a terse offer letter from Cambridge that detailed conditions of entry. This, Mr Lee said, contrasted with the praise given by US universities in their offer letters.

He added that the student said she had felt invisible during her time at Cambridge and she complained that after leaving the university, the only communications she received were demands for donations.

The outburst will embarrass Cambridge fundraisers who are looking to generate significant income from alumni across the world.

The university's campaign website says: "The success of the 800th Campaign is key to securing Cambridge's future in the top rank of universities worldwide. Building on a long history of benefaction at Cambridge, the campaign aims to mobilise still greater... support from alumni and friends worldwide."

Mr Lee, who was awarded a first-class degree in law by Cambridge in the late 1940s, urged the university to help students to feel a greater sense of belonging and to communicate better with alumni, following the example of US universities such as Yale, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"It is really off-putting if the only communication an alumnus gets is a begging letter," he said.

Professor Richard, who sat next to Mr Lee at the dinner, told other alumni at the meeting: "I know we must do better at our communications with you."

Later she said that in 20 years they would all remember the night when Mr Lee "jumped all over Cambridge" before the university raised its first £1 billion, the target for the campaign that was launched in Cambridge last September.

But Professor Richard said her goal was not to turn Cambridge into an American-style university. "I can't imagine Cambridge ever writing letters like the ones we heard (from US admissions offices). But yes, there is room for change."

Ruth Gee, director of the British Council, said: "It was a friendly wake-up call from a long-standing supporter of Cambridge."

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Lecturer in Business and Management

De Montfort University

Reader in International Development

University Of Wolverhampton

School and College Engagement Officer

University Of Chichester

Pro Vice-Chancellor

Cranfield University

Professor of Business and Management

De Montfort University
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes