National University of Singapore

Singapore Infopedia


The National University of Singapore (NUS) was officially established on 8 August 1980 through the merger of Nanyang University and the University of Singapore. However, the university’s origins can be traced to the founding of a medical school in 1905. NUS has undergone various institutional developments over the years to become a world-class university that is recognised as one of Asia’s best. The university aims to offer students an educational experience that is both global and Asian.1 NUS sees an annual enrolment of around 33,500 students in its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.2

Medical school and Raffles College
In 1904, Tan Jiak Kim, a Straits Chinese businessman and philanthropist, petitioned the colonial government for the establishment of a medical school in Singapore. A sum of more than $80,000 was eventually raised for the school through donations made by Tan and other leading members of the Chinese community. On 28 September 1905, the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School was officially opened with the mission to produce homegrown doctors to serve the local community.3 The school was renamed the King Edward VII Medical School in 1913 in recognition of a donation of $120,000 from the King Edward VII Memorial Fund as well as to acknowledge the fact that the school was established during the reign of King Edward VII. The school underwent another name change in 1921 when it became known as the King Edward VII Medical College to better reflect its academic status as an institution providing a university standard of education.4

Another institute of higher learning, Raffles College, was officially opened on 22 July 1929 to provide local students with higher education in the arts and sciences.5

University of Malaya and University of Singapore
On 8 October 1949, the King Edward VII Medical College and Raffles College were merged to form the University of Malaya – a response to calls by the people of Malaya and Singapore for a local tertiary institution.6

During the first decade of its establishment, the University of Malaya grew rapidly and this resulted in the setting up of a new division in Kuala Lumpur in 1957.7 On 15 January 1959, the two divisions of the university officially became autonomous entities and were referred to as the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and the University of Malaya in Singapore respectively.8 Following Malayan independence in 1957 and Singapore’s attainment of internal self-government in 1959, the Malayan and Singapore governments wanted to have separate universities and thus the University of Singapore and the University of Malaya were both formally established on 1 January 1962.9

National University of Singapore
In 1979, Frederick Dainton, a British academic and university administrator, was asked by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to conduct a preliminary study of university education in Singapore.10 The resultant report recommended the establishment of a single, strong university covering a wide range of academic disciplines.11 The government accepted the recommendation and announced in April 1980 that the University of Singapore and Nanyang University would be merged to form NUS.12 On 29 July 1980, Parliament passed the National University of Singapore Bill,13 and the new university was officially inaugurated on 8 August 1980 with about 9,000 students and 800 academic staff.14

In 2004, the University Autonomy, Governance and Funding Steering Committee was established to study an appropriate model of autonomy for Singapore’s publicly funded universities, including NUS, to enable them to thrive in a more competitive education environment. In 2005, the government accepted the recommendations of the steering committee to give greater autonomy to the publicly funded universities. As a result, NUS officially became a corporatised, not-for-profit, autonomous university on 1 April 2006.15

Campus development
The Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School campus was located on the grounds of a former female lunatic asylum at Sepoy Lines, or what is now Outram (the current site of the Singapore General Hospital).16 The original Raffles College campus, designed by Cyril A. Farey and Graham R. Dawbarn, was located at Bukit Timah.17

After the medical school merged with Raffles College in 1949, which formed the University of Malaya, courses were run from both campuses. In 1959, two largely autonomous divisions of the university were created with separate campuses in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The separate division campuses became the University of Malaya and University of Singapore respectively in 1962 after the splitting up of the university.18 After the split, the University of Singapore ran classes from four separate campuses: arts and social sciences at Bukit Timah, architecture at Ladyhill, engineering at Prince Edward Road, and medicine and dentistry at Sepoy Lines. In the late 1960s, prime land previously occupied by the British military was returned to the government. Toh Chin Chye, then minister for science and technology, envisioned the relocation of the University of Singapore from the various campuses to a single location. A site at Kent Ridge was secured in 1968 for the university to establish a new campus for its expansion.19

Kent Ridge campus was designed by S. J. van Embden and construction work started in 1973. After the merger of the University of Singapore and Nanyang University in 1980, NUS was still operating from three campuses: Kent Ridge, Sepoy Lines and Bukit Timah. The establishment of the National University Hospital in 1985 saw the medical and dentistry faculties move from Sepoy Lines to Kent Ridge.20 In 2000, NUS held its first convocation ceremony on its present home campus at Kent Ridge in the newly opened University Cultural Centre.21

World-class university
1990s: Developments in technology and education

In 1991, NUS became the first university in Singapore and the region to be connected to the internet through the NUSNET campus network.22 In 1993, all NUS undergraduate students were given access to NUSNET as part of the university’s efforts of supporting the government’s IT2000 blueprint plan to transform Singapore into an intelligent island.23 That same year, a new modular system – combining the rigour and depth of the British university system with the flexibility and breadth of the American system of study – was introduced to students in the Faculty of Business Administration.24 The new system was extended to students in other faculties the following year.25

2000s: Global partnerships with an Asian focus
In 2003, the university’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music took in its first batch of students for the undergraduate degree programme in music. The conservatory had been established in partnership with the Peabody Institute of The John Hopkins University, a world-renowned American music academy.26 In 2004, the university established the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to offer postgraduate programmes related to Asian-focused public policy and targeted at the region’s top policymakers.27

In September 2009, the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School was officially opened. A collaboration between NUS and Duke University in the US, the school was established to provide American-style graduate medical training to local doctors as part of the government’s plan to develop a vibrant biomedical hub in Singapore.28 In 2013, the Yale-NUS College, Singapore’s first liberal arts college, welcomed its inaugural class of students.29

NUS has developed into a world-class university offering diverse undergraduate and postgraduate programmes through its 16 faculties and schools. Academic areas covered include arts and social sciences, business, computing, design and environment, engineering law, music, science, public policy, public health, medicine and dentistry. Over 2,000 modules are available to students every semester.30

28 Sep 1905: The Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School is officially opened.

1913: The medical school is renamed the King Edward VII Medical School.
The school is renamed again, this time to King Edward VII Medical College.

22 Jul 1929: Raffles College officially is opened.
8 Oct 1949: King Edward VII Medical College and Raffles College merge to form the University of Malaya.
15 Mar 1956: Nanyang University is inaugurated.
1 Jan 1962: The University of Singapore is established after the University of Malaya split up.
1979: The Dainton Report recommends a single, strong university for Singapore.
8 Aug 1980:
National University of Singapore is established.

2006: NUS becomes a corporatised, not-for-profit autonomous university.

NUS vice-chancellors/presidents32
1980–1981: Tony Tan Keng Yam
1981–2000: Lim Pin
2000–2008: Shih Choon Fong
Dec 2008–: Tan Chorh Chuan33


Pattarin Kusolpalin

1. National University of Singapore, Annual Report 2015 (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2015), 31.
2. National University of Singapore, Annual Report 2015, 62.
3. “The Medical School,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 29 September 1905, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “History,” National University of Singapore, [n.d.]; E. S. Teo, “The History of the College of Medicine and Tan Teck Guan Building,” Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34, no. 6 (July 2005): 64C.
5. “Raffles College Opened,” Straits Times, 23 July 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “University Bill,” Straits Times, 30 March 1949, 6; “To Be Repealed,” Straits Times, 29 September 1949, 10; G. L. Peet, “A Unique Picture in Malaya’s History,” Straits Times, 10 October 1949, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Marian Quah, ed., 100 Years of Heritage: The NUS Story (Singapore: NUS Museum, National University of Singapore, 2006), 8. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 ONE)
8. “The Varsity Split to Be Official on Jan. 15,” Straits Times, 9 January 1959, 4; “Expansion or Split?” Straits Times, 18 January 1959, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Lim Kuang Hui et al. eds., The National University of Singapore: A Portrait (Singapore: Alumni Affairs and Development Office, NUS, 1993), 15–16. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 NAT); “Our History,” University of Malaya, 2 July 2015; “S’pore Varsity Starts Today,” Straits Times, 1 January 1962, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. K. C. Goh, “A Man of Vast Erudition,” Straits Times, 14 March 1980, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “The Conclusions and Recommendations,” Straits Times, 16 March 1980, 11. (From NewspaperSG); Frederick Sydney Dainton, Report on University Education in Singapore, 1979 (Singapore: Prime Minister's Office, 1979), 3–4, 7–8. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 DAI)
12. “It’s NUS from This Year, Says Lee,” Straits Times, 13 April 1980, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Singapore. Parliament, Third Reading of the National University of Singapore, vol. 39 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 29 July 1980, cols. 1482–494. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN); “NUS Bill Clears Last Hurdle,” Business Times, 30 July 1980, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Edwin Lee and Tan Tai Yong, Beyond Degrees: The Making of the National University of Singapore (Singapore: National University Press, 1996), 187. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 LEE); National University of Singapore, “History.”
15. Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, “NUS, NTU, SMU to Become Autonomous Universities,” press release, 11 April 2005. (From National Archives of Singapore document no 20050412991); National University of Singapore (Corporatisation) Act Cap 204A, Singapore Statues Online, rev. ed. 2006.
16. Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 26.
17. Quah, 100 Years of Heritage, 20.
18. Lim, et al., National University of Singapore, 15–16.
19. “Historical Development of Kent Ridge Campus,” National University of Singapore, accessed 10 June 2009.
20. Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 192.
21. “National University of Singapore, “History.”
22. National University of Singapore, “History.”
23. Sandra Pearce, “NUS Requires All Undergraduates to Open Computer Accounts,” Straits Times, 5 July 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Rachel Tan, “NUS Draws on the Best of British and US Varsity Systems,” Straits Times, 24 March 1993, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
25. National University of Singapore, “History.”
26. “Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Puts On Inaugural Concert,” (2003, September 28). Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2003. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); National University of Singapore, “History.”
27. “Education Minister Launches Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,” Channel NewsAsia, 17 August 2004. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); National University of Singapore, “History.”
28. “The Duke-NUS Story,” Duke-NUS Medical School, 2016.
29. “Milestones,” YaleNUS College, 2015.
30. “Education,” National University of Singapore, 2016.
31. National University of Singapore, “History.”
32. “Our Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors,” National University of Singapore,
33. “Tan Chorh Chuan,” National University of Singapore, [n.d.].

Further resource
National University of Singapore, NUS: To Meet the Challenges of a Developed Nation: 90th Anniversary, 1905–1995, National University of Singapore (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 1995). (Call no. RSING
378.5957 NUS)

The information in this article is valid as at 29 February 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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