Raffles College was set up at 469 Bukit Timah Road in 1928 as a college for higher education in the arts and sciences. The establishment of Raffles College was the result of a scheme to commemorate the centenary of the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles. In 1949, Raffles College merged with the King Edward VII College of Medicine to form the University of Malaya, which became known as the University of Singapore in 1962 and then the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1980 after merging with Nanyang University. NUS moved out of the Bukit Timah site to its current location at Kent Ridge in 1981. The site was subsequently occupied by several other tertiary institutions before being returned to NUS in 2005 and becoming its Bukit Timah Campus.
Background and establishment
In 1918, the Centenary Committee headed by Sir George Maxwell proposed the establishment of Raffles College to commemorate the momentous event of the founding of Singapore. While the proposal for the formation of Raffles College was mooted in 1918, a series of delays meant that the College only began functioning in 1928.
An empire-wide architectural competition was held in 1922 for the design of the College premises, and was eventually won by Cyril A. Fahey and Graham R. Dawbarn. Raffles College opened its doors to an initial 43 students in June 1928, and was formally opened on 22 July 1929 by Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Malay States.
The establishment of Raffles College was made possible by generous endowments from various parties. The Government of the Straits Settlements donated the land for the College premises, in addition to a sum of $1 million dollars for the buildings and an annual sum of $50,000 for the maintenance of the College. The Government of the Federated Malay States (FMS) donated $500,000, while smaller sums were contributed by the state governments of Johore, Kelantan and Kedah. The Chinese community contributed a total of $540,723 while their European counterparts gave $426,563. Some of the major individual contributors were Oei Tiong Ham, Tan Soo Guan, Eu Tong Sen and Sir Manasseh Meyer, who each donated sums between $100,000 and $150,000.
The students of Raffles College graduated with Diplomas of Arts or Science after a three-year course. Students were accommodated in either the FMS Hostel or the Eu Tong Sen Hostel. From 1934, the top two graduates in the cohort were selected by the government to take up administrative positions in the Straits Settlements Civil Service.
As issues over the value and recognition of Raffles College diplomas arose, students began to appeal to the government to upgrade the College to a university. A majority of the professors also supported this move, as they wanted more academic autonomy. In response, the McLean Commission was appointed in 1939 to address issues of higher education in Malaya. The Commission concluded that Raffles College was to follow various recommendations for a further five years before becoming a university college. These recommendations, however, were eventually disrupted by the outbreak of World War II.
The war years
All academic activities at Raffles College ceased in December 1941, once the Japanese invasion began, and its buildings were requisitioned by the government medical service. The college was used as the headquarters of the Medical Auxiliary Service (MAS), which was responsible for providing medical assistance after air raids. Both staff and students alike volunteered for the MAS, but by February 1942, the students at Raffles College had to be evacuated to the FMS Hostel at King Edward VII College.
During the Japanese Occupation, the College grounds were employed as the headquarters of the Japanese military. The Japanese also added a large two-storey building on the College grounds and extended the northern end of the Eu Tong Sen Hostel, while following the same architectural style as the original buildings.
After the end of the Japanese Occupation, Raffles College reopened on 10 October 1946. Following the rediscovery of the Register of Students, third-year students who had missed only one term were made eligible for War Diplomas without requiring further examinations.
In 1947, a Commission on University Education in Malaya, headed by Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, was set up. After meeting with students and alumni from both Raffles College and the King Edward VII College of Medicine, the Commission recommended that the two colleges could be merged immediately to form a university, without the need to first establish a university college as an intermediary step. The foundation day of the new university was 8 October 1949, with a grand ceremony held at Oei Tiong Ham Hall to mark the event.
In the 21 years of Raffles College’s existence before its merger, the College had produced a total of 573 graduates, including distinguished alumni such as Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen. Raffles College features a strong and vocal alumni, as evidenced by the 250 college graduates who gathered for a reunion in June 1993 to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the College.
Site and architecture
Raffles College faced Bukit Timah Road and was located alongside Cluny and Dalvey Roads. The College was formed around two quadrangles of grass courtyards, with rows of two-storey buildings on the perimeter. The more prominent buildings on the College grounds were the Manasseh Meyer Science School and the Oei Tiong Ham Hall.
The centrepiece of the College crest featured a red double-headed eagle that was derived from the coat of arms of Sir Stamford Raffles. The three crowns against a dark blue background represented the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. Three sheaves of padi against a green background were used to represent the Federated and Unfederated Malay States and British Borneo.
After NUS moved to its current campus at Kent Ridge in 1981, the National Institute of Education, part of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), occupied the Bukit Timah site until 2000. It was subsequently taken over by the Singapore Management University, which later moved to its own campus in July 2005. A period of uncertainty over the fate of the Bukit Timah site followed, during which both NUS and NTU sought to have the site returned to them. It was eventually awarded to NUS and today serves as the Bukit Timah Campus of the university, housing its Law Faculty.
In April 2003, some college alumni voiced their concern over the fate of the Raffles College campus and buildings, and appealed for the preservation of the College buildings under the Preservation of Monuments Board Act. Raffles College was officially gazetted as a national monument on 11 November 2009.
Guay Ee Ling and Joanna HS Tan
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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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