Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel

Meet the Press: Reporting the Global University

As the Editors in Chief of the three prominent international liberal arts college newspapers, we highlighted what differentiates these universities and what it is like reporting on them as students.

Since their inception, global liberal arts colleges have drawn criticism. Largely launched from the American press space, criticisms centered on these universities’ ability to provide a quality of education and level of freedom for students on par with their North American namesakes. As the Editors-in-Chief of the three most prominent international liberal arts college newspapers, The Octant, On Century Avenue and The Gazelle, and in honor of #SaveStudentJournalism, we sought to shed light on what differentiates these universities and what it is like reporting on them as students.
Who are these colleges?
What bonds all these colleges together, besides their international names, is the fact that they are small and highly selective. NYU Abu Dhabi, NYU Shanghai and Yale-NUS all boast between roughly 1000 and 1250 undergraduates. In terms of acceptance, Yale-NUS and NYUAD had lower average admit rates in 2017 than their US peers, 5 and 4 percent, compared to Yale and NYU’s 7 and 28 percent. NYUSH’s acceptance rate is estimated to be similar to Yale-NUS and NYUAD.
Who those students are, however, varies wildly. At Yale-NUS, 60% of the student body is local Singaporean, and even that group is mostly comprised of Chinese-Singaporeans. Comparatively, local Chinese comprise 51% of NYUSH and Emiratis only 14% of NYUAD.
Undergraduate population, local versus international students
The level of local students in the undergraduate class correlates well with host country institution integration. Whereas NYUAD has no local UAE partner university, NYUSH is legally affiliated with East China Normal University due to Chinese government regulations regarding foreign universities, and Yale-NUS is technically a semi-autonomous part of the National University of Singapore, commonly known as NUS.
The nature of these local partnerships also mostly explains funding for these universities, with Chinese government funding for NYUSH promulgated through East China Normal University, funding for NYUAD promulgated directly through the UAE government and funding for Yale-NUS from the Singaporean government and Yale-NUS’s endowment.
In terms of connecting to their namesakes, the global portal campuses of NYU share various administrative bodies with New York, but are less integrated at the faculty and undergraduate level. Technically, attending NYUAD or NYUSH is like attending any other college of NYU in New York City, just much farther away. Yale-NUS is two steps removed from New Haven, with Yale-NUS fully independent of Yale in terms of daily functions, though substantial ties do exist between faculty, administration and students with the Connecticut campus. One can think of Yale as Yale-NUS’s active advisor rather than administrator.
In a more immediate sense of connection, NYUSH and Yale-NUS share facilities, including lab spaces, with their local partner universities.
Doing Journalism
China, Singapore and the UAE ranked as the 178th, 151st and 128th most free countries to do journalism in 2018, according to Reporters Without Borders. The U.S.A. ranked 45th. It is true that the media environment that hosts these international liberal arts colleges is more restricted than in North America.
Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index
Traditional news outlets in these countries face both explicit and subtle political censorship mechanisms, including bans on specific topics like reporting on Islamic apostasy in the UAE, and strong cautions against reporting favorably on subjects like homosexuality in Singapore or Tibetan separatism in China.
Doing Student Journalism
Student publications at the international colleges in Singapore, China and the UAE thus occupy a complicated space. They are at the forefront of what defines the bounds of academic freedom versus freedom of speech in countries where students are only explicitly granted the former. Each newspaper has navigated these hurdles uniquely.
At NYUSH and Yale-NUS, both papers are directly funded by the university Student Affairs or Student Life offices. This has provided both On Century Avenue and The Octant with university funding and cover from censorship in the spirit of academic freedom. However, Yale-NUS considers The Octant an autonomous newspaper and it can still be faced with individual legal challenges accordingly. NYUSH also considers On Century Avenue an autonomous newspaper, as no one in the university’s administration exercises direct or indirect oversight of the publication. At NYUAD, The Gazelle has taken no money from the university, but has depended on the college’s legal guidance and aegis. The Gazelle is financed by the personal funds of the Editors-in-Chief.
University funding has nevertheless still allowed On Century Avenue to previously be blocked by the Great Firewall in China, a feat of complete censorship unseen at The Octant or The Gazelle. The newspaper believes this was due to a travel article focused on North Korea published in 2015 and written only in Chinese. The block has since been lifted and the article is accessible via Chinese internet.
The Gazelle and The Octant have mostly endured heavy self-censorship. At The Gazelle, to uphold its pledge as an online publication accessible to all, this has meant curtailing the discussion of selected topics outright, such as direct opposition to UAE foreign policy. It has also included the frequent contortion of language into uncontroversial euphemisms in order to discuss topics like shisha smoking in dorms and contraband. The Octant has devised its own solution in restricting content accessibility.
Password protected content on The Octant
When discussing select topics the Yale-NUS newspaper has chosen to password protect select online articles so they are only available to the electronic Yale-NUS community. They have also chosen to selectively only do certain issues in print.
In the end, student news is not the only way students have pushed boundaries at these international global campuses. Exceptional events for their host country have been pursued at NYUAD, NYUSH, and Yale-NUS, testing academic freedom. Nevertheless, student journalism stands as a reminder that the fringes of the global university are unclear, and as they sit undetermined, the freedom of their institutions beyond the classroom is diluted.
Tom Klein is Editor-In-Chief, Terence Wang and Allison Chesky are contributing writers. Email them at
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