Buddhist college to admit nuns for the first time

SINGAPORE - Singapore's first campus for Buddhist nuns is set to open its doors to students from across the region in September.

Spearheaded by the nine-year-old Buddhist College of Singapore (BCS), it will offer a degree and master's in Buddhism in both English and Mandarin. The programmes will be a partnership with Sri Lanka's state university, the University of Kelaniya, and the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University in Thailand.

The college has been running programmes at the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery on Bright Hill Road in Bishan since 2005 and is the only institution here to offer full-time degree programmes in Buddhism for monastics. This centre only trains monks.

The decision to extend its programmes to female students is part of the college's expansion plans.

The monastery's abbot, Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng, said: "We want to expand the college to light up the world through education on wisdom and compassion for both male and female monastics."

The new Nuns' Campus will take in 45 students every two years. The campus will be housed at the Poh Ern Shih temple in the West Coast.

Students must be 18 or older and have a diploma or A-level certificate. The fee of $8,000 will be borne by the college.

In total, it will cost the college about $800,000 to run the programmes. Venerable Chuan Cheng, 42, who teaches at BCS, said the team is recruiting 16 lecturers to teach subjects such as the history of Buddhism and Buddhist ethics and philosophy.

Most of the students are expected to come from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. They will have to take an entrance test on their basic knowledge of the religion as well as their command of both English and Mandarin. So far, response to the Nuns' Campus has been good, said Ven Chuan. It has received 15 applications from China since it announced plans earlier this year.

China is home to 30 Buddhist colleges but Ven Chuan said the potential to be exposed to a "different, cosmopolitan culture" is what draws many to Singapore to further their studies. More than 100 monks have passed through BCS' doors.

Ven Chuan said: "They will also get to improve their command of the English language and expand their world view."

A PhD programme could be rolled out five years later "once we can show that we produce quality students", he said, and added that one of the last hurdles for the Nuns' Campus is to get the Ministry of Manpower to grant the college a bigger quota to recruit teachers from overseas.

"Singapore does not produce Buddhist educators, so we have to look elsewhere, to places like America, China and Sri Lanka," he said. "We hope that our request can be approved."


This article was published on April 12 in The Straits Times.

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