Honoring Singapore Graduates

Growth of UB programs abroad reflects growing trend in U.S. higher education

By John J. Wood
New UB graduates attend January 2007 commencement ceremonies  at headquarters of Singapore Institute of Management.

New UB graduates attend January 2007 commencement ceremonies at headquarters of Singapore Institute of Management.

THE COMMENCEMENT scene was oh-so-familiar yet strikingly unique.

Sixteen proud candidates for graduation gathered on January 12, 2007, for a UB commencement ceremony during which they received their Bachelor of Science degrees in business administration from the School of Management. Senior administrators and faculty from UB were on hand, as were the families and fellow students of the new graduates.

So far it sounds like any of the many ceremonies held at UB during the spring. What was unusual about this commencement, however, was the fact that it occurred in Singapore, nearly 10,000 miles from Buffalo.

The students receiving their degrees were part of the first class to enroll in UB’s undergraduate degree program conducted entirely on the campus of the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). Singapore’s newest university, SIM has partnered with UB in delivering an Executive MBA program since 1996.

“Having recently marked the 10th anniversary of our Executive MBA program at SIM, the School of Management is very pleased with the success of the new undergraduate program,” says John M. Thomas, dean of the UB School of Management and codirector of the program, who officiated at the commencement in Singapore. “We look forward to continuing to develop our strong partnership with SIM in the years ahead.”

Currently, UB programs at SIM enroll some 350 students. In addition to the business administration program, UB has been offering a BA in communication since May 2005 and will launch a BA in psychology in May 2007. Faculty are drawn from UB, from other U.S. institutions of higher education, and from SIM and other Singaporean institutions of higher education. English is the language of instruction, as it is in all UB overseas programs. In Singapore, this is not an issue since the language of instruction at all levels of education in that country is English.

The graduates at the January commencement had begun their UB programs a mere 32 months before—in May 2004. Eight full semesters later, they had completed all of their coursework and degree requirements. In fact, half of the 16 graduating students received Latin honors from the university.

“It was a thrill to take part in the commencement at SIM and to see the ‘first fruits’ of our undergraduate program in Singapore,” says Stephen C. Dunnett, PhD ’77, vice provost for international education, who codirects the program in Singapore and conferred degrees at the ceremony. “I was most impressed by our new graduates, and their families could not be more pleased.”


THIS WAS THE FIRST time that UB undergraduate students had received baccalaureate degrees for programs completed entirely outside the United States. The next UB graduation ceremony at SIM, in spring 2008, is expected to include more than 100 graduates.

The Singapore commencement is an indicator of current trends in global education, as major research universities in the U.S. increasingly seek to develop branch programs overseas. Unlike most U.S. institutions, however, UB has a long track record in delivering academic programs abroad. For more than 40 years, UB has been a pioneer in developing overseas sponsored programs. These programs, in turn, have promoted the internationalization of UB.

Nearly a half-century ago, the university was part of a major U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)–funded institutional and faculty development project in Paraguay—first in the health sciences in the 1950s and 1960s, and later in education in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the early 1970s, the Graduate School of Education had developed a master’s degree program delivered in Nigeria.

The university’s early entry into China in 1980 eventually led to the awarding of a U.S. Department of Commerce contract to deliver the first American MBA program in China (1984–1989). This program made the UB School of Management one of the best known and most highly regarded U.S. management schools in China and paved the way for a number of subsequent programs, including EMBA programs with Renmin University and Motorola University in Beijing, which is geared to Motorola affiliates, clients, staff and prospective clients.

UB’s prominent role in China in the early 1980s also led to the $15 million cooperative education program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1986–1991), which was developed in partnership with MARA Technical Institute, one of the best engineering institutes in Malaysia. (MARA stands for Majlis Amanah Rakyat or Council of Trust for the Indigenous People.) This program not only delivered the first two years of undergraduate education to 1,200 Malaysian students preparing to transfer to UB and to other U.S. universities, but it also provided international teaching experience to dozens of UB faculty.

The Malaysia program served as the impetus for the development of other UB programs in Asia during the late 1980s and early 1990s and eventually led to the establishment of the Office of the Vice Provost for International Education. In the 1990s, this office partnered with the School of Management in major federally funded management education projects in Europe—the Center for Excellence in Management (a SUNY initiative in Hungary); Riga Business School (Latvia) and MBA Program in Grodno (Belarus).

In Singapore, the university has the makings of a branch campus for global learning: It receives UB students from Buffalo for summer and semester programs at SIM, and it serves as a base for visiting faculty to conduct their research, often with Singaporean colleagues. Potentially, SIM could be a base for the delivery of other educational programs in the region.

John J. Wood is associate vice provost for international education at UB.

Related Reading: UB Programs Abroad, The Benefits of Exchange