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Asia Invests in the Liberal Arts

By Pericles Lewis, President, Yale-NUS College
Published in the Harvard International Review


There are worrying signs today that the United States is turning away from the tradition of liberal arts education that has made it a global leader in post-secondary education over the past century. Universities are cutting language and literature departments, students are entering majors perceived as pre-professional, and some politicians are becoming skeptical about the expenses associated with small classes taught by tenured or tenure- track faculty.

At the same time, there are signs that Asia is turning towards the liberal arts. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Seoul National University in South Korea, Waseda University in Japan, and the National University of Singapore, to name just a few, have recently made major investments in liberal arts education as an alternative to their traditionally highly specialized and technical university programs. It seems that leaders in these Asian countries recognize what some US policy-makers overlook: a nation’s strength comes from the type of education it offers.