EDB wants money back from UNSW

Harriet Alexander
Sydney Morning Herald (14 Jun 07)
15 Jun 07

The University of NSW faces a further blow over its ill-fated Asia campus with revelations it will be forced to pay about $20 million to the Singapore Government for pulling out of the venture.

Singapore’s Economic Development Board paid the university about $80 million to set up the campus and the university had drawn down just under a quarter of the grant.

But it is understood the board will ask for that money to be refunded because the university has not met the conditions of its endowment.

The $20 million bill will come in addition to $17.5 million that was loaned to the university and it has already spent on setting up the campus, where classes wound up last week, just one semester after opening.

The university has also promised compensation for any students who want to continue their study at the Sydney campus, including their travel, visa and housing costs – up to $85,000 each, The Sun-Herald says.

A spokeswoman for the university, Judy Brookman, said 120 students had accepted the offer, although it was possible some had also accepted offers at Singapore universities and were weighing their options.

The university will also be liable for the termination or redundancy payments of the majority of the campus’s 109 staff who will not be offered positions in Sydney.

An Economic Development Board spokeswoman said yesterday the board offered support packages to organisations that “advanced Singapore’s economic competitiveness” through their business activities.

“These normally comprise tax incentives, loans or grants which are recallable if pre-agreed milestones and outcomes are not met,” she said.

But she declined to comment on the package offered to UNSW.

Ms Brookman said the university and the board were yet to negotiate the penalty of UNSW’s withdrawal, because the immediate concern was the fate of the students and staff.

But a source close to the board said UNSW would be asked to return the grants it had spent because it was clear the university had not met the terms of the agreement.

The sudden withdrawal of UNSW from its Singapore campus has embarrassed the university and the Singaporean Government, which is styling the country as the “Boston of the East” by drawing prestigious universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the French business school INSEAD.

UNSW’s Singapore campus opened this year with an aim to build up to a student population of 15,000 to 20,000, but it announced last month it would close at the end of its first semester, after attracting 148 students – half the expected number.

But already the withdrawal is affecting the university’s reputation, with the Chinese Government erroneously warning students on its website that UNSW Asia had falsely marketed itself as one of the world’s top 50 universities.

The UNSW website had only described the main university as being among the world’s top 50, Ms Brookman said

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