Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2019

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UNLV likely to shutter its campus in Singapore



Students of the first graduating class of UNLV’s Singapore campus celebrate after receiving their degrees from the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

UNLV will likely close its sister campus in Singapore after officials decided not to renew its contract with a local technology institute, officials from both schools confirmed Monday.

Since 2006, UNLV's Harrah College of Hotel Administration operated a satellite campus on the small Southeast Asian island of Singapore, located on the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula near Indonesia.

The Singapore campus was UNLV's first foray into establishing an independent, degree-granting branch overseas. Singapore's prime location as one of Asia's gaming-resort capitals made it the perfect choice for UNLV's renowned Harrah Hotel College.

Asian students can graduate from college with a bachelor's of science in hotel administration, with a major in hospitality management, from one of the top hotel colleges in the United States. In exchange, UNLV could extend its brand and reach in Asia, which boasts one of the fastest-growing gaming industries in the world.

"You have to be part of the Asian growth story to be relevant," said Richard Linstrom, UNLV's associate dean and managing director of the Singapore campus.

With the support of Nevada's higher education leaders, UNLV entered into a five-year contract with the Singapore Institute of Technology in 2010.

Under the contract, UNLV was paid $33,000 per student over the three-year program to operate its hotel college branch, located on the campus of SIT. The per-pupil funding came from tuition money and a subsidy from the Singapore government.

(As a self-funded, free-standing venture, the UNLV's Singapore outfit doesn't receive any taxpayer dollars from the university or Nevada residents. And because the UNLV campus is considered a nonprofit charity in Singapore, it doesn't send any of its profits back to Las Vegas.)

In October 2012, UNLV and SIT officials began renegotiating terms for a new agreement — to take effect after the current one expires by the end of 2015.

UNLV officials had hoped to seek more funding from its SIT students and the Singaporean government to continue its operations overseas, the costs of which had ballooned.

Linstrom lobbied SIT officials for double the money UNLV was currently receiving.

The Singapore campus wasn't losing money, Linstrom said. However, at its current revenue levels, it wouldn't be able to keep up with the rate of growth UNLV was experiencing with the hotel college on the mainland, he said.

"It wasn't sustainable over the long haul," Linstrom said of the current tuition and fee allotment. "In order for the program to be sustainable and to develop, (SIT) would have to pay us considerably more money."

Charging about $80,000 per student over the three-year program would be closer to the amount foreign students pay to attend UNLV's main campus on Maryland Parkway, Linstrom said. That increased funding would have allowed UNLV to expand its Singapore branch, offering SIT students an opportunity to study in Las Vegas for five weeks to a year, he added.

However, UNLV and SIT officials couldn't come to an agreement.

"We both didn't agree to the terms of the new contract," said Desmond Soon, SIT's director of corporate communications. "These things happen. Life goes on."

SIT — a polytechnical school — has partnerships with 10 universities from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States to offer courses in engineering, health, design, digital media, education and hospitality.

Of those myriad programs, the Harrah Hotel College program was among the most well-regarded and popular offerings at SIT over the past two to three years, Soon said. SIT is now exploring new partnerships for its hospitality courses, he added.

"Hospitality is a key discipline for us," Soon said. "SIT is determined to continue offering hospitality programs."

SIT's 600-some current students will be able to finish out their degree program by December 2015, officials said. Also this fall, SIT will be able to admit about 150 students with advanced credits to finish out the UNLV hospitality program, Soon said.

Unlike some overseas higher education ventures that have failed, UNLV is expected to leave Singapore without any loose ends, Linstrom and Soon said.

UNLV's lease for its space at the National Library building in Singapore will expire by 2015. Also by that time, UNLV will be finished repaying the Singapore government for a loan to start up the campus.

In addition, UNLV has plenty of lead time to ensure most of its students will graduate its program. The university will also be able to continue sponsoring a handful of UNLV students to study in Singpore on a full-ride scholarship until the end of 2015.

"We're not in a situation where we're walking away from a train wreck," Linstrom said. "We didn't want to leave abruptly, stranding our students. That's why we began planning far in advance so we could satisfy our financial obligations to Singapore and fulfill our academic obligations to our students."

As for another UNLV campus abroad, it's still unclear.

If SIT or the Singaporean government changes its mind, Linstrom said UNLV is happy to stay in Singapore. A large donation could even compel the university to keep a research outfit on the island, he added.

But most likely UNLV will pursue another Asian partner, relocating its 22 employees from Singapore, Lindstrom said. Macau may be another ideal location, he added, due to its corporate partnerships in Las Vegas and its proximity to both China and Hong Kong. The possibilities for UNLV's prospects abroad are exciting, Linstrom said.

UNLV plans to hold a campuswide conversation in the coming months to discuss its next plans. But one thing's for sure:

"We're all committed to some sort of presence in Asia," Linstrom said. "We need to keep our presence in Asia."

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