Friday, November 9, 2012

Tisch Closes in Singapore, and How It Relates to Deeper Problems

It’s official: Tisch, the famous New York based arts school, is shutting down in Singapore. What’s that? You don’t care? Oh I see. You don’t grasp the significance of this. You think it’s some fancy, prancing-around-in-ballet-pants crap, and it shouldn’t matter. Well in this article, I’ll explain how the closure of Tisch reflects on serious financial issues in Singapore:

Camera Man
Well, at least they have an excuse to be dramatic about it.

What is Tisch?

Tisch is a New York based film school. Despite having a website that belongs in 1997, Tisch is one of the most recognized brands in education.
They have courses for film making, dramatic writing, animation, etc. But I’m not talking about their syllabus here. My focus is on the amount of money we poured into Tisch, and how it’s failure reflects on deeper issues.
Tisch was part of the global schoolhouse concept, an attempt to transform Singapore into an educational hub. Not “transform” by having lots of external exams, because that would be too easy. No, we want to find prestigious schools, and build the entire campus on our soil. Because if there’s one problem we have, it’s too much space.
A related objective was to reach 150,000 foreign students by 2015. This number has now been revised downwards.
Tisch’s closure is the latest in a series of embarrassments, following pull-outs by Warwick University and UNSW (University of New South Wales).

How Much Does This Cost Us?

Signing a cheque
Wow, I haven’t started making movies and I’m ALREADY over-budget.

These failed experiments might be tolerable, if we weren’t losing money like a blind drunk at a roulette table.
In an earlier court case, it was revealed that the Economic Development Board (EDB) extended a $9.6 million loan for the Tisch campus. I doubt this can be paid back, as Tisch’s deficits were over $7 million in 2009 alone. In addition, the EDB also gave out grants totalling $6.13 million (meant to last till 2016).
Then there’s the UNSW campus. UNSW got money from EDB for their campus, but EDB refuses todisclose the amount. Considering the site would have housed 15,000 students, and UNSW alone invested over $22 million, I’d hazard we lost another eight digit figure.
What can we learn from this?
  • We’re Wasting Money
  • The Attraction Value is Questionable
  • The Necessity is Questionable

1. We’re Wasting Money

Attempting to buy a whole foreign University is…hang on, let me find the technical term…bloody stupid.
I get that Singapore wants the intellectual sophistry of a college town. If we could have a whole city of thinkers, everyone would want to hire our workers. Every company will want to set up here, because even our janitors would be discussing post-modernism over lattes. That’s the dream.
But it doesn’t work that way. A University is more than a campus and a brand, it’s also a culture. And some cultures will not thrive in a Singaporean context. It’s like thinking:
Apple trees make money, so let’s just just buy a bunch from Michigan and plant them here. Instant cash.”
It doesn’t work, because the soil and climate are wrong. Those trees won’t grow. In the same way, we can’t just ship lecturers en-masse from Harvard, and expect to clone it on our soil.

Yes, we’re impressed by your Degree. Now get your broom and sweep.

Warwick University already gave us a hint: Our strait-jacket attitude means their culture can’t survive here, whether or not their campus gets built. It’s not about the money.
So all that cash we’re pouring into foreign Universities? It’s just a big black hole, sucking up funds that could go elsewhere. Let’s hope the government re-thinks this idea, and soon.

2. The Attraction Value is Questionable

I’m not even going to discuss the impact of 150,000 foreign students. Politics and I mix like power drills and heart surgery. I’ll just raise this point:
We don’t need foreign Universities to attract foreign students.
Firstly, if someone wants to go to Warwick or Tisch, why would they fly to Singapore? Why wouldn’t they fly to the actual Warwick or Tisch? Considering the price of those schools, I doubt those students are on poverty relief.

Changi Airport
“In the end, I decided on the Singapore Tisch instead of the New York one, because Changi airport is really efficient”. – 100% true story

Second, consider Singapore’s main attractions. We have solid infrastructure, safe streets, Eunice Olsen, etc. Here’s my guess: If all we had were local institutions, like NUS or NTU, we’d still see an influx of foreign students. I mean, didn’t local institutions have to introduce caps on foreigners?
If our local schools are in such high demand, why don’t we pour money into expanding them instead? Why buy overpriced foreign lecturers, who aren’t a good fit anyway?

3. The Necessity is Questionable

Without importing those schools, we can’t grow local talent. And also, a French Fry diet is great for weight loss.
Who are we kidding? Last I checked, we had successful directors (Royston Tan, Jack Neo, that bunch) even before Tisch. I’m not saying Tisch had nothing to contribute, just that we overestimate its necessity. Just as we did with Warwick and UNSW.

NUS students in the hall
And I’ll show you’re just as good as a Harvard student. Or I’ll fail you.

We didn’t have world-famous schools in the 1950′s, but we still worked our way to a first world education. And we did it without any of the overpriced tactics we’re using now. So why the new-found lack of confidence?
If the government lacks sufficient faith to invest in local Universities, why would we? This is why some Singaporeans choose to study abroad: The impression that local just isn’t as good. And every dollar we place in a foreign University helps to affirm that.
So think about that, if you’re trying for a skills upgrade; it’s not all about the branding. And follow us on Facebook, if you want to know budget friendly ways to get a Degree.