Queen's Scholarship

Singapore Infopedia


The Queen’s Scholarship was an annual education scheme introduced by the colonial government in 1885 to enable promising students in Singapore and Malaya to enrol at a British university.1 It was the colony’s most prestigious academic prize until it was replaced in 1959 by the Singapore State Scholarships (known today as President’s Scholarship).2 The Queen’s Scholarship promoted education and produced many distinguished alumni.3

Foundation, cancellation and restoration
The Higher Scholarships (as they were called until 1890) were first proposed in October 1884 by Colonial Secretary and Acting Governor Cecil Clementi Smith.The objectives of the scholarship scheme were to enable promising students to complete their studies in Britain, before returning to assume professional careers.5

Furthermore, the prospect of overseas study was to encourage schooling children to stay in school. There were no opportunities for students to acquire a professional education at the time, and few parents could afford sending their children abroad for further education.6 The first examination to qualify for the scholarship was held the following year, in 1885.7

However, the scheme soon faced criticism, because it was felt that the scholarship was not only fostering intense competition and anxiety among students and parents, but also taking up a disproportionate share of teachers’ energies and colonial funds for an elite few.8 In fact, it took $30,000 annually to maintain the scholarship. There were also fears of India’s experience, where the newly created educated class would question the colonial status quo. As a result, the scholarship was suspended in 1911.9

However, due to the efforts of educators and former scholars such as Lim Boon KengSong Ong Siang and Noel Clarke, as well as support from the public, the scholarship was restored in 1924.10 Following the restoration, the scholarship was opened to both genders.11 Prior to that, it was only for boys.12 In 1930, Maggie Tan became the first female recipient.13

Particulars of the scheme
Selection process
Scholars were selected through a competitive examination. The first examination was held in 1885. It was set by local scholars led by Archdeacon Thomas Meredith.14 No candidates could attain the required standard of merit. From 1886, the examination was set by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. The first recipients were awarded in 1886: Charles Angus and James Aitken, who went on to study engineering and law respectively. Angus would later return to join the Perak Government, while Aitken would set up a law firm with Song Ong Siang, a Queen’s Scholar in 1888.15

After 1923, the pair of Queen’s scholars were chosen from the top five candidates, and other factors like the candidates’ character and personality were also taken into consideration in the final selection.16 From 1940, the selection of the scholars was taken over by a Board of Selection appointed by the Senate of the Raffles College, and new requirements were added.17 For example, the candidates had to be graduates of either Raffles College or King Edward VII College of Medicine (both of which would combine to form the University of Malaya in 1949).18 

Value and conditions
Scholarships initially covered return steamer fare, and paid £200 each year for four years (later a maximum of six, and then three). From 1927, the amount awarded would vary between £150 and £500 a year, though students usually received the maximum amount.19

In the first decade of the scholarship, most scholars studied in London or Edinburgh. From 1896 to 1910, Cambridge and Dublin were added to the list of approved learning institutions.20 After the scholarship was restored in 1924, Oxford and other varsities like Birmingham and Durham were added.21 In 1951 scholarships and fellowships became tenable for an approved course of study at any foreign university.22

Post-colonial replacements
After Singapore attained self-rule in 1959, the Queen’s Scholarships were replaced with Singapore State Scholarships, which was only tenable at the University of Malaya, and was worth $2,500 a year. The recipients were selected based on merit and were obliged to serve a five- to eight-year bond in the civil service. In 1964, the Singapore State Scholarship was renamed the Yang di Pertuan Negara Scholarship. In a bid to make it the most prestigious academic award, the government removed the criterion for approved learning institutions and conferred the scholarship to the top students in Singapore based only on merit.23 After Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent nation, the Yang di Pertuan Negara Scholarship was renamed the President’s Scholarship in 1966.24

There was evidence that implementing the Queen’s Scholarship kept students longer in school.25 In fact, enrolment beyond Standard VII (equivalent to today’s Secondary two) fell sharply in 1911 after the scholarship was suspended.26 Further, one headmaster estimated in 1923 that for each scholar chosen, 40 to 50 other students stayed in school who would had otherwise left.27 In addition to the scholarship’s impact on school enrolment, it was seen to have induced a healthy form of competition among schools in the Straits Settlements.28

For returning scholars, the civil service was not an option as the senior positions were reserved for the British. Nonetheless, they became respectable doctors, lawyers and teachers. On top of that, many of them became leaders of their community, and served as legislative councillors, municipal councillors and Justice of Peace alongside other wealthy merchants. Their examples were an important development in the colony as they encouraged the locals to accept the Western form of education for professional success. In addition, the public anticipation of the annual announcement of new scholars led many wealthy parents to send their children to British universities and schools. This resulted in the rise of a new English-educated elite, which eventually helped to facilitate the modernisation of the local Asian communities in Singapore and the Straits Settlements.29

Notable recipients
1887: Lim Boon Keng, first Straits Chinese medical doctor, community leader, philanthropist, president of Amoy University
1888: Song Ong Siang, first Straits Chinese barrister and knight, historian30
1889: C. M. Philips, principal of Raffles College31 
1896: Gnoh Lean-Tuck (Wu Lien-Teh), doctor who eradicated the Manchurian Plaque in 1910
1904: Noel Clarke, Eurasian Association president, legislative councillor32
1904 (FMS): Chan Sze Jin, lawyer, legislative councillor33
1908: Tun Leong Kew Yoh, Governor of Malacca34
1924: Tan Ah Tan , Singapore’s first local Puisne Judge in the High Court35
1929: Tan Thoon Lip, Singapore’s first local Registrar of the Singapore Supreme Court36
1930: Maggie Tan, first female to win the Queen’s Scholarship
1935: Ahmad Mohammed Ibrahim, state advocate general who drafted Singapore pre-1965 constitution, and served as Attorney-General and an Ambassador37
1937: Ismail bin Mohammed Ali, first Malay Governor of Bank Negara38
1937 (FMS): Lim Chong Eu, served as Chief Minister of Penang39
1938: Lim Kok Ann, University of Singapore’s youngest professor, later its Dean of Medicine40
1940: Maurice Baker, educator, ambassador, pro-chancellor41
1946: E. W. Barker, Speaker of Parliament, Minister for Law, National Development, Environment, Labour42
1947: Kwa Geok Choo, co-founder, Lee and Lee; leading conveyancing lawyer; wife of the Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew43
1955: Hwang Peng Yuan, Economic Development Board chairman, Temasek Holdings vice chairman, ambassador44
1955: Wong Lin Ken, first Singaporean Ambassador to the US and the UN, Home Affairs Minister, historian45
1957: Lim Pin, Vice Chancellor, National University of Singapore46

194?: Benjamin Sheares, leading obstetrician, second President of Singapore47
1941: Kenneth M. Byrne, first PAP Minister for Labour and Law48
1954: Kanagaratnam Shanmugaratnam, leading pathologist; Dean of Medicine, University of Singapore49


Duncan Sutherland

1. Wu Lian De and Ng Yok-hing, The Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya 1885–1948 (Penang: Penang Premier Press, 1949), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 378.3409595 WUL-[RFL])

2. Warren Fernandez, Without Fear or Favour: 50 Years of the Public Service Commission (Singapore: Times Media for the Public Service Commission, 2001), 80–81. (Call no. RSING q352.63095957 FER)
3. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1975 (Singapore: NUS Press, 1977), 129. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
4. “Legislative Council,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 25 October 1884, 10; “The Queen’s Scholars since 1885 in Malaya,” Straits Times, 16 November 1948, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 2.
6. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 2.
7. “Legislative Council”; “Queen’s Scholars since 1885 in Malaya.”
8. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 4.
9. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 4–5.
10. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 6.
11. Regulations for the Queen’s Scholarships, Straits Settlements, G.N. 2051, Government Gazette (Singapore: Mission Press, 1924), 2187. (Microfilm no. NL 1217)
12. “Queen’s Scholars since 1885 in Malaya.”
13. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 30.
14. “Queen’s Scholars since 1885 in Malaya.”
15. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 2, 23, 30.
16. Regulations for the Queen’s Scholarships, Straits Settlements, G.N. 2051, Government Gazette (Singapore: Mission Press, 1924), 2187–2188. (Microfilm no. NL 1217)
17. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 19.
18. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 8; E. D. J. Lee, ed., To Sail Uncharted Seas: Commemorating 100 Years of Medical Education (1905–2005) (Singapore: Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore, 2005), 107. (Call no. RSING q610.7115957 NAT)
19[GS1] . Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 7.
20. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 3.
21. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 3; “The Queen’s Scholars since 1885 in Malaya,” Straits Times, 16 November 1948, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Queen’s Scholarship 1951: Five Will Try for Coveted Honour,” Singapore Free Press, 5 September 1951, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Fernandez, 50 Years of the Public Service Commission, 80–81.
24. Fernandez, 50 Years of the Public Service Commission, 80–81.
25. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 38.
26. “The Education Report: Effect of the Abolition of the Queen’s Scholarships,” Straits Times, 21 August 1911, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Educational Conference,” Straits Times, 23 October 1923, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 38.
29. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 129.
30. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 9, 23–24.
31. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 24.
32. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 9, 26, 28; Wu Lien-Teh, Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician (Penang: Areca Books, 2014), 31–32. (Call no. RSEA 610.92 WU)
33. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 11; “A Distinguished Public Career,” Straits Times, 27 September 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 29; “MacG Names the Two Governors,” Straits Times, 11 August 1957, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 30; Thian Yee Sze, Chong Chin Chin and Sharon Lim, eds., In Session: Supreme Court of Singapore: The Building, Her Heritage and Her People (Singapore: Supreme Court, 2022), 63. (Call no. RSING 347.5957035 IN)
36. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 31; Thian, Chong and Lim, Supreme Court of Singapore, 68.
37. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 32–33; Thian, Chong and Lim, Supreme Court of Singapore, 71.
38. “Malayan to be Head of Bank Negara,” Straits Times, 22 March 1962, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 34; Sunny Goh, “Chong Eu to Quit for Good,” Straits Times, 23 October 1990, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 34; Leslie Leow, “Dr Lim Enjoys a Dream Retirement,” Straits Times, 23 February 1984, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 20; “Maurice Baker is Now NUS Pro-chancellor,” Straits Times, 1 June 1989, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 20; Thian, Chong and Lim, Supreme Court of Singapore, 76; Tan Guan Heng, 100 Inspiring Rafflesians, 1823–2003 (Singapore: World Scientific, 2008), 17–19. (Call no. RSING 373.5957 TAN)
43. Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 20; Thian, Chong and Lim, Supreme Court of Singapore, 75.
44. “P.Y. Hwang Elected as Intraco Chairman,” Straits Times, 1 June 1987, 23 (From NewspaperSG); E. Wijeysingha, The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon: The Story of the Raffles Institution 1823–1985 (Singapore: Pioneer Book Centre, 1989), 226. (Call no. RSING 373.5957 WIJ)
45. Gretchen Liu, The Singapore Foreign Service: The First 40 Years (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2005), 95. (Call no. RSING 327.5957 LIU)
46. Tan, 100 Inspiring Rafflesians, 135–37.
47. Sources differ over whether Benjamin Shears won the fellowship in 1940 or 1941 (see “Dr Benjamin Sheares,” The Istana, updated 13 September 2023; “Sheares to Be President,” Straits Times, 27 December 1970, 1; “‘Local Boy’ Gets Top Varsity Job,” Malaya Tribune, 13 January 1951, 3). Most sources stated that Sheares could not go overseas after winning the fellowship because of the Japanese Occupation, so he only went in 1947 (“Queen’s Scholar Changes,” Straits Budget, 23 January 1947, 7). Some sources that stated the list of fellowship recipients in 1940 and 1941 did not include his name. See Wu and Ng, Queen’s Scholarships of Malaya, 20; “Queen's Scholars To Remain In Malaya,” Pinang Gazette and Straits Chronicle, 3 October 1940, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
48. “Scholars Anxious to Go Abroad,” Straits Times, 13 March 1946, 4; “Colony Men for U.K.,” Straits Times, 20 March 1948, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Kevin Y. L. Tan, “The Legalists: Kenny Byrne & Eddie Barker,” in Peng Er Lam and Kevin Y. L. Tan, ed., Lee’s Lieutenants: Singapore’s Old Guard (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1999), 73–75 (Call no. RSING 320.95957 LEE); “Byrne, the Champion of Workers and Women,” Straits Times, 19 May 1990, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
49. “Doctor Takes Over Varsity,” Straits Times, 8 December 1960, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of December 2023 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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