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UNLV to split with Singapore education partner 

Campus officials say foreign affiliation no longer sustainable

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By 2015, UNLV will end its partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in hotel administration.

After failing to reach an agreement regarding the future of UNLV Singapore, which offers a two-year program through the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, the university has decided to part ways with SIT, which pays for the tuition of Singaporean students partaking in the program.

UNLV Singapore will accept its last batch of students this fall. Students currently enrolled in the program and the students who are accepted in the fall semester will be able to complete their degree by 2015.

The campus opened in 2006 so that UNLV could participate in Singapore’s growing gaming industry.

Nevada state dollars are not used to fund campus operations. Instead, UNLV Singapore runs on tuition paid by students, mimicking a business-like model in which profit is the key to success. Additionally, UNLV was granted a $3 million loan by Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) to cover initial operating expenses.

UNLV Singapore associate dean Richard Linstrom and UNLV Hotel College dean Don Snyder said that they are seeking ways to keep the program open without SIT’s financial support or opening an international campus elsewhere.

SIT has confirmed that it will be transformed into a university, evolving from its roots as an institution that partners with various university programs to offer specialized degrees in a number of fields, including hotel administration.

Currently, about 650 students attend UNLV Singapore, 600 of which are Singaporean citizens or permanent residents, according to Linstrom. SIT pays about $33,000 for each of the 600 students’ education. Non-Singaporean students pay about $58,000.

In comparison, a four-year undergraduate degree at UNLV costs about $88,000 for international students.

According to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, UNLV would like to increase Singaporean students’ tuition by more than double its current amount and non-Singaporean students’ tuition by about 20 percent.

Linstrom said that the wide gap between tuition costs at UNLV Singapore versus those at the main campus is unsustainable. He added that rising inflation and the decreasing value of the U.S. dollar in the city-state presents a need to raise Singaporean students’ tuition.

“Tuition has gone up substantially in Vegas and the dollar is weakening in Singapore,” Linstrom said. “There shouldn’t be a huge fundamental difference for a Singaporean in Las Vegas and a Singaporean degree [at UNLV Singapore].”

Forbes reported this month that Singapore’s inflation rate has risen to its highest level in three months. At present, the U.S. dollar is equivalent to 1.24 Singapore dollars.

Linstrom maintained, however, that UNLV Singapore is economically sound.

“Financially, the campus is highly successful. It’s really a question of strategic direction going forward,” he said. “That said, if we were to continue with [SIT] we would have needed more money.”

Top on the list of “strategic direction” is that students be enrolled in the international program for three years instead of just two. Additionally, UNLV requested that Singaporean students spend a year at the main campus as opposed to the current five-week mandatory summer session.

“The UNLV experience is very much grounded in Las Vegas,” Linstrom said. “Our feeling was to maintain the alumni ties and the institution ties. To be part of the Rebel family, it just requires time.”

But SIT and the university did not find middle ground in order to keep their partnership alive.

SIT’s director of corporate communications Desmond Soon said that the end of the partnership is unfortunate, but it’s a reality that is quickly approaching.

“These things happen and life goes on,” Soon said. “We are fully aware there are certain conditions partners will bring up and if we do not agree, we must agree to disagree and move on from there.”

However, the decision has not gone without criticism.

A source based in Singapore who is close to the school criticized UNLV’s decision not to pursue its relationship with SIT.

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He accused Snyder and Linstrom of jeopardizing UNLV’s ties with a foreign government.

“Don Snyder and Richard Linstrom together have single-handedly destroyed one of the most important relationships with a government agency UNLV could ever have,” the source said, adding that UNLV’s expectations borderline on disrespectful, especially because SIT is paying for tuition that helps the university pay back its loan to EDB.

“They’re trying to publicly shame SIT,’” the source said. “They’re trying to put shame on a Singapore government agency to get more money.”

The source said that UNLV’s wanting to leave Singapore would be equivalent to the university threatening to leave Nevada if the Legislature were to deny its requests for additional funds.

“If they’re making money and they’re having profit, how much more profit do they have to make until they feel it’s economically feasible?” the source said.

Snyder did not respond to the criticism, or comment on whether UNLV Singapore is accumulating profit.

The timing of the situation could be better. Singapore’s presence in the Asian gaming industry is quickly growing. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that by 2015, Singapore’s gaming revenue could be as high as $7.2 billion.

The source said that if UNLV Singapore is struggling financially, the proper procedure is to look into whether faculty salary could be cut instead of immediately demanding more money from SIT.

However, Snyder said that the inconvenience of the program is the main cause behind the end of the partnership.

“We were basically putting a four-year academic program into a two-year program and that’s tough,” he said.

Snyder said that he felt SIT has long since planned to become an independent school.

“I think they strategically saw us a means to an end,” he said. “They wanted to learn from us … and then do it themselves.”

He said that he believes UNLV would benefit most from a strong hotel administration program based in Las Vegas.

“My philosophy is we want to have the best damn program here. And from an economic point of view we then become an export program,” Snyder said. “My philosophy is yes, we need to become international, but the heart beats here in Las Vegas.”

The source said that UNLV must understand that having international campuses is vital to success.

“If you’re not going out to the world and being proactive, you become reactive,” he said. “And if you’re being reactive, you lose.”

According to a statement made by President Neal Smatresk in November, UNLV Singapore will have graduated almost 900 students by 2015.

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