The internationalization of higher education is a major trend around the globe at the moment. One of the manifestations of this phenomenon is that Western universities are setting up programs and entire branch campuses in countries that wish to enhance the quality of higher education that they offer as a means to both benefit local students and to attract foreign students.
Singapore is one of many places in the world that is actively engaged in this process, and the recent establishment of Yale-NUSCollege is an example of that.
Today I was looking at an old newspaper from Singapore called the Straits Chinese Herald (22 January 1894, Page 3) and found an article that was about a related topic – a proposed “Chinese university” in Singapore in 1894.
This is what the article said:
“Mr. Huang Zunxian, the Chinese Consul-General here has proposed to build a college in Singapore for the purpose of admitting advanced boys, irrespective of colour, who have been educated in the English Schools in the Straits Settlements.
After the students have passed the required standard which would principally be advanced English, Chinese characters, and the Mandarin language, the students will be able to obtain employment in the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs and Telegraphic Offices in all parts of China.
The fee for board and tuition of each applicant will be decided by the Committee who will demand according to the circumstances of the applicant’s parents. Mr. Huang proposed the building and up-keep of the college partly by the Chinese Government, and partly by raising subscriptions from the Chinese merchants in Singapore.
Mr. Huang has communicated this to the Government and a suitable site has been applied for. The Chinese Minister in London has also been communicated with.
This is like establishing the Emperor of China’s scholarships in Singapore, and those boys who fail to obtain the Queen’s scholarships which only number two in a year ought to be glad to be admitted into this college where they will receive further and higher education.
As China is not an island of fourteen miles in breadth, there is every chance for those who give satisfaction in the discharge of their duties to the Chinese Government to be promoted to high positions in the empire, which is certainly very much better for those who fail to obtain the Queen’s scholarships than to become ordinary clerks in the Straits Settlements, which will lead to nothing.
We hope the suggestion which is a laudable one will be successfully carried out before long.”
In the late nineteenth century, there were scholarships called the Queen’s Scholarships that were offered to a very small number of local Chinese in Singapore to study in England. Huang Zunxian, meanwhile, had served as a consul in London and San Francisco before taking up the post of consul-general in Singapore in the 1890s.
At that time, the Qing Dynasty had a policy of not allowing Chinese who went overseas to return. Huang Zunxian saw this as a great loss for China (what we would today refer to as a “brain drain”) and he succeeded in getting the court to end this policy.
I had never heard of this proposed college in Singapore, but it is a logical outgrowth of Huang Zunxian’s ideas, as it was a way to get Chinese outside of the country to go back, by educating them and employing them.
What is interesting is that the way that Huang Zunxian was proposing to do this was by getting the Qing Dynasty government to invest in establishing a university of its own overseas.
In many ways this proposed college fits with the type of things that are happening today with the internationalization of education, but in some ways it is different.
Today there are Chinese universities that are seeking to emulate colleges like Yale and set up campuses overseas in places like Malaysia and London.
The goal this time does not seem to be to bring people to China, as was the case in the nineteenth century, but to extend China’s influence into the world.
As far as I know, Huang Zunxian’s proposed university never materialized. I wonder how successful the current efforts will be?