Nine Singaporeans graduated from law course with NYU

A joint degree run by New York University (NYU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), awarding a master of laws degree from both universities, had benefited just nine Singaporeans since the one-year postgraduate degree was launched in 2007, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang revealed last week.

In May the universities involved announced that the course would be scrapped after 2014, when the current intake completes the course.

While the government had provided just over a third of the initial costs, a stumbling block to recruiting more Singaporean students may have been a lack of scholarships to mitigate high fees, the minister’s reply to a parliamentary question appeared to suggest.

Lim said in a written answer published on 8 July that the course, which initially aimed to enrol around 80 students a year, had produced just 237 graduates – just over half the target number – including only nine Singaporean nationals.

“About 15% of these graduates have chosen to stay and work in Singapore following their graduation, contributing to the legal talent pool in Singapore,” the minister added.

Lim revealed that the ministry’s Economic Development Board, or EDB, had to date provided S$5.3 million (just over US$4 million) in grants to NUS, to support the programme – that is, around 35% of the cost.

“EDB estimates that an additional S$2.2 million (US$1.72 million) in grants will be disbursed to NUS, bringing the total grant amount to S$7.5 million for the programme,” the minister said.

The EDB funding was for the initial phase. The “programme was established with the aim of becoming financially self-sustaining after a few years”, Lim said. The EDB grant complemented other sources of funding for the programme, including corporate sponsorships, student fees and NYU and NUS internal funds.

But while the programme had “been largely able to attract the desired number of students, the high cost of the programme in comparison to alternative graduate law programmes here meant that the take-up of the programme depended on the availability of scholarships provided by the school”, Lim said.

The Singaporean government did not provide additional funding for scholarships, although “like any academic institution, the programme administers and offers scholarships to deserving students”.

Tuition fees for the course taught by faculty members from both universities are around S$62,600 (US$50,000) a year – almost double the cost of NUS’ own graduate law programmes.

Lim pointed to other factors behind the demise of the programme, including anticipated changes in regulatory policies in the US, which “introduced the risk” that students of the programme “would no longer have the opportunity to take the New York bar examinations beyond 2014”.

The dual-degree master of laws programme was set up as a collaboration between NUS and the NYU School of Law.

Students are ‘cross-trained’ in Singapore and New York laws and emerge with both an NYU master of laws in global business law and a NUS master of laws degree, and have the opportunity to sit for the New York bar examinations.

The EDB had supported the initiative “based on the recommendations of the Legal Services Inter-Agency Committee in 2003, to help develop Singapore into a regional hub for legal training and research, with capabilities to cross-train lawyers in other national laws”, according to the minister.

“The aim was also to deepen the talent pool of lawyers in Singapore with expertise in other legal jurisdictions to support the growth and development of our legal industry, which has been dealing with more international legal work.”

According to Lim, the NYU-NUS collaboration “added to the scope and diversity of Singapore’s legal education landscape. The programme has also contributed to NUS’ vision to be Asia’s global law school.

“It has provided a platform for knowledge sharing between the NYU and NUS law faculties, which in turn helped NUS to further strengthen its other graduate law programmes.”

He described the conclusion of the collaboration as regrettable but said that “the decision, which NYU and NUS made after careful consideration of the viability of the programme, has to be respected”.

“The government remains committed to developing the legal services and legal education sector. We will continue to facilitate and support projects where there are benefits for Singapore, while ensuring that public monies are used judiciously.”