The term “debate” often evokes images of raucous speeches and lively verbal jousting. Alas, parliamentary debates (in this country at least) are often heavily structured, guarded affairs. (1/n)
For instance, to make a point, one has to be recognized by the Speaker. This preserves order and decorum, but it comes at the cost of stifling dynamic riposte, especially for a heated topic. (2/n)
Time constraints exacerbate the problem (Parliament has more issues to discuss than time allows). This was the case yesterday, when a few #workersparty MPs (myself included) were unable to raise supplementary questions before the end of question time. (3/n)
So I’m afraid the debate over the future of Yale-NUS College (YNC) turned out to be something of a damp squib (at least for me). Education Minister Chan spent a good part of his time explaining the motivation behind the merger of YNC. (4/n)
But the explanations left a wide open question: Why must the merger require such a major restructuring and rebranding, instead of building on existing synergies (most corporate mergers do not dismantle both constituent entities)? (5/n)
The approach also squanders the hard-won reputational capital built by YNC and the University Scholars’ Program (USP). Companies routinely spend millions to acquire intangible capital (this premium is known as “goodwill”). (6/n)
USP is already NUS, so a combined YNC entity (perhaps with some modification) would not be a misnomer. While NUS doesn’t need Yale co-branding, YNC acquired its own enviable reputation (so much so that Yale has indicated publicly its willingness to prolong the partnership). (7/n)
Such institutional restructuring upends real commitments (what happens to endowments collected under the auspices of YNC?). It is also corrosive of Brand Singapore, if we are viewed as an unreliable partner (is Duke-NUS thinking twice?) (8/n)
Some of the justifications were also puzzling. Minister Chan repeatedly spoke of economies of scale as a motivation for the new college. But scaling up is the antithesis of liberal arts experience, of small classes and deeply personalized curriculum. (9/n)
Moreover, it would appear that such economies aren’t really necessary for financial sustainability. One alternative is to raise tuition or reduce subsidies, especially for non-locals; this is a common model for public universities worldwide. (10/n)
Incidentally, while YNC endowments fall short of that of Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore (the very top colleges), it is of a similar order to that of Haverford, Bates, and Harvey Mudd (still top-20 schools). Financing really does seem resolvable. (11/n)
While the debate on Yale-NUS has passed with unanswered questions, I hope we will continue to see the importance of consultative decisionmaking, not just in higher ed policy, but all public policy. #makingyourvotecount (n/n)

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More from @jamuslim

15 Sep
Every year, I teach a course in international economics. In the first lecture of the course, I teach what is known as the Ricardian model: named after the 18th century economist, David Ricardo. (1/n)
The key insight then—as it is today—is that free trade between two countries allows each one to specialize according to what they can do relatively well. This is known as comparative advantage. (2/n)
In doing so, these economies can enjoy levels of consumption greater than if they chose instead to go it alone, and attempt to produce everything at home. This elegant, compelling argument underlies why economists generally favor free trade. (3/n)
Read 12 tweets
12 Sep
For many Singaporean parents, one of the more stressful events is placing their child in a preferred primary school. What that preference is differs. For some, it is the alma mater; for others, a school offering certain academic options; for yet others, one near their home. (1/n)
It strikes me that securing a place close to home is a reasonably modest expectation. This is not guaranteed if the school is especially popular, of course (and parents understand that); but getting into a walking-distance neighborhood school seems eminently fair. (2/n)
Alas, in certain neighborhoods—especially #Anchorvale in #SengkangGRC, where I serve—the preponderance of families with young children has meant that many residents have been unable to place their kids in schools close to home. (3/n)
Read 8 tweets
2 Sep
Corporate governance is one of the less-sexy topics within corporate finance and asset management. After all, everyone wants to know about firms’ profitability metrics, new product lines, and growth plans. (1/n)
In contrast, issues such shareholder rights, board independence, and compensation schemes evoke yawns among all but the most nerdy analysts and researchers. What does “governance” really mean for a private corporation anyway? (2/n)
These matters appear to be best left to insiders, who may know best for how to run the business. But such matters are actually enormously important. There is a sizable literature that links strong corporate governance metrics to outsized returns. (3/n)
Read 12 tweets
1 Sep
Last week, @yalenus announced that it would be taking in its final class of students. The college—one of the first liberal arts schools in Asia—is set to close its doors in four years. It marks the end of a bold experiment. (1/n)
I suspect most Singaporeans would be apathetic to this development. While Yale has an easily recognizable brand name, it is, after all, an elite institution, which by definition caters to a very limited few. (2/n)
The idea of the liberal arts is also alien to most Asians. Asian universities tend to focus most on science, technology, and other professional fields that are perceived to contribute most to economic output (and yield jobs for graduates). (3/n)
Read 17 tweets
18 May
The government recently announced plans to form a nonprofit entity to take over the media businesses of Singapore Press Holdings. Many observers have offered their thoughts on the merits of this arrangement (including my #workersparty colleagues). (1/n)
I thought it would be interesting to examine the economics of the local media industry in a little more detail. While it’s not possible to cover all relevant aspects, a few issues did jump out at me. (2/n)
The Straits Times and its associated vernacular sister publications (Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harían, etc) currently operate under the auspices of an effective monopoly conferred by the state; at the moment, only SPH has been permitted to operate as a newspaper company. (3/n)
Read 18 tweets
6 Apr
I first arrived in the United States with around 10 grand in savings, a box of economics textbooks, and a baggage full of dreams. Unlike many PhD students, I did not initially receive any financial assistance. (1/n)
So the first few months were especially rough. I found the cheapest room I could, traveled by bike, and ate a lot of frozen dinners. But I bled through the savings quickly, mainly because of costly out-of-state tuition fees. (2/n)
But I was very lucky. The family I lived with was exceedingly generous. I ate two meals with them each day, for which I paid only a fraction of the cost. They would invite me to their family holidays. They were kind and wise and supportive. (3/n)
Read 11 tweets

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