Academic institutions not a stage to push partisan politics: Minister
MOE supports Yale-NUS decision to cancel module: Ong Ye Kung
The use of educational institutions to advance an agenda against the Government is a worry, said Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
Speaking in Parliament, he addressed the recent case where Yale-NUS College cancelled a proposed module titled Dissent and Resistance, saying the itinerary raised various concerns, including over a workshop for making protest placards and dialogues with personalities who had been convicted of public order-related offences.
He said: "This is a programme that was filled with motives and objectives other than learning and education.
"We have to decide whether we allow such forms of political resistance free rein in our educational institutions, and even taught as compulsory credit-bearing courses or programmes."
Local poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at had designed the module and was set to run it when Yale-NUS pulled the plug two weeks before it was scheduled to start.
The decision sparked considerable discussion online on academic freedom and MPs also raised concerns.
Mr Ong stressed that the Ministry of Education (MOE) valued academic freedom.
But, he said: "Academic freedom cannot be carte blanche for anyone to misuse an academic institution for political advocacy, for this would undermine the institution's academic standards and public standing."
Yale-NUS had flagged issues with Mr Alfian's programme, including concerns over a lack of academic rigour and a limited range of perspectives.
Furthermore, activities like the workshop on protest placards and a visit to the Speaker's Corner could have put students at risk of breaking the law.
DECIDED TO CANCEL COURSE
The college eventually concluded that there wasn't sufficient time to revise the project and decided to cancel the course and inform students on Sept 13.
Mr Ong added that Yale-NUS accepted that it could have done better in its administrative processes in organising the project and communicating its concerns and will strive to improve.
He stressed that the MOE knew the college had decided to cancel the module and supported the decision.
He said political dissent is a legitimate topic of academic inquiry and will continue to be studied.
But he added: "Every country has their rules and laws, red lines unique to themselves. For example, I do not think the United States would tolerate an American University course designed by a Jihadist to promote violence, or France or Germany would accept a course teaching that Nazism is good."
He said it is crucial that education institutions adhere to guiding principles, including adherence to Singapore law as well as social and cultural context, a commitment to advance education and maintain high academic standards and to ensure that they are not misused as a platform for partisan politics.
Mr Ong added: "We believe in this fundamental value (of academic freedom). Modern-day Galileos would not exist without our academics and researchers being free to pursue the truth, wherever it may lead."