Tisch Asia a scam: Suit by 3 ex-students

PHOTO: The Straits Times

It was touted as the first overseas offshoot of a celebrated film school, which boasts alumni such as film-maker Martin Scorsese and opportunities for students to hobnob with big names and be taught by illustrious directors.

But when Tisch Asia - a branch of New York University's (NYU's) Tisch School of the Arts - shut its doors last year due to financial woes, some students felt that they had fallen victim to an educational scam.

Now, three former Tisch Asia students are suing NYU on behalf of their peers, alleging a "sub-par" faculty, facilities and equipment compared with those available to their New York peers.

Anna Basso, Amy Hartman and Jaime Villa Ruiz filed a complaint against NYU in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York last month.

The American residents spent US$100,000 to US$165,000 (S$137,000 to S$226,200) each in tuition fees to study at the now-defunct school in Kay Siang Road.

The Singapore campus, which opened to much fanfare in 2007, left the private education scene last year after its last batch of students finished their courses.

The branch, which offered degrees in areas including animation and digital arts, dramatic writing and film, took in students from countries such as the United States, China, South Korea and India.

In documents obtained by The Straits Times, the lawsuit states that Tisch Asia students, many of whom were rejected applicants from Tisch New York's Master of Fine Arts programmes, enrolled on the promise that programmes were identical.

But only the tuition fees were the same at Tisch Asia, the suit alleges.

"When NYU decided to close Tisch Asia, it became abundantly clear to students that they fell victim to an educational scam, that their programme would never create a legacy," the suit noted.

"In reality, many faculty members at Tisch Asia had either sub-par experience or knowledge to the faculty in New York... At least one teacher was a fresh graduate of Tisch Asia."

Students also "could not avail themselves of the networking opportunities crucial to the art world", which Tisch New York students had access to through faculty connections and exposure to Hollywood and figures in the film industry.

Some cinematography professors "showed students outdated lighting techniques resembling television lighting of the 1990s", the suit claims.

One of them "did not know how to use a modern camera".

The alumni suing NYU are seeking for class action status, representing other Tisch Asia students.

Many Tisch Asia graduates told The Straits Times they are disappointed with the quality of education, from facilities to exclusion from grants available to their New York peers.

A few, however, said their education could not possibly be similar to the one in New York.

NYU spokesman John Beckman stressed that Tisch Asia students had the same curriculum as the one Tisch uses in New York.

He added that Tisch Asia operated at a steep deficit as NYU offered an education that cost more than the tuition fees paid.

He added that the lawsuit is wholly without merit.


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