Tay Eng Soon



Tay Eng Soon (Dr) (b. 20 January 1940, Singapore–d. 5 August 1993, Singapore), was an academic specialising in nuclear energy who served in the Ministry of Education for over 12 years. He entered into politics in 1980 when he was elected unopposed as a People’s Action Party (PAP) member of Parliament (MP) for the River Valley constituency during the general election that year. Tay was first a minister of state and then senior minister of state in the Ministry of Education from 1980 until his death. He played a crucial role in the development of technical training institutes and polytechnics in Singapore. After suffering from various medical conditions since the 1980s, Tay died of acute heart failure at the age of 53.

Early life and education
Tay, fondly known by many of his peers as Bob, was born in Singapore on 20 January 1940.1

Anglo-Chinese School
From 1947 to 1959, Tay received his primary and secondary education at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and was the top student throughout his time there.2 In 1960, he made headlines for topping the entire Singapore cohort in the Higher School Certificate examinations. An all-rounder, Tay was the editor of the school magazine and also a patrol leader in the 11th ACS Senior Scout troop. In 1968, he was awarded the Queen’s Scout’s certificate.3

Tay was active in church work while studying at ACS. He was a district steward of the Methodist church on Barker Road and assistant superintendent of its Sunday school.4 The church, now known as Barker Road Methodist Church (BRMC), had its beginnings in 1956 as a regular Sunday gathering of a group of ACS students; in that same year, Tay built the church with some schoolmates. To save cost, he enlisted the help of his brother, Tay Kheng Soon, who was then an unqualified architect, and the church was constructed with wood at a cost of $70,000.5 Tay continued to be active in the BRMC throughout his life.6

Higher education
In 1960, Tay enrolled in the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom to study electrical engineering.7 He felt that he could best serve Singapore as an electrical engineer, as he believed that local industries would depend largely on electricity for power in the near future.8 In 1963, Tay graduated with a Bachelor of Science with first-class honours in electrical engineering.9

Tay continued his studies at University College London with a scholarship from the Royal Society, a scientific academy in the United Kingdom. He completed his studies there in 1966 and attained a doctorate in microwave engineering.10

Later in 1977, Tay took up a business course at the University of Singapore and obtained a diploma in business administration in 1979.11

Research and academic career
After receiving his doctorate in 1966, Tay joined the Culham Laboratory of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority as a research associate. He spent about four years at the laboratory conducting fusion research.12

Having studied and worked in Britain for close to a decade, Tay decided to return to Singapore in 1970 and thereafter joined the University of Singapore’s (now the National University of Singapore) Department of Electrical Engineering as a lecturer.13 He was one of 23 nuclear scientists in Singapore then and probably the only one specialising in nuclear power.14 During his time with the university, Tay had stints as vice-president and president of the University of Singapore Academic Staff Union.15

While working at the university, Tay also led a small research and development (R&D) outfit under the Security and Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Established in 1972, the secret outfit was known as the Electronics Test Centre and its purpose was to develop Singapore’s defence technology capabilities.16 With the progressive expansion of its R&D scope, the centre was renamed the Defence Science Organisation (DSO; known as DSO National Laboratories since 1997) in 1977.17

In 1978, Tay left his position as associate professor at the University of Singapore and joined MINDEF as director of DSO.18

Political career
Tay had started to develop an interest in politics while studying in Britain. His political career began in 1980 when he joined the PAP and stood as one of its candidates for the general election (GE) held on 23 December that year.19 Elected unopposed, he took office as MP for the River Valley constituency.20 He was returned unopposed in the next GE in1984.21 
 
In the 1988 GE, Tay was part of a three-member PAP team that contested the Eunos GRC against the Workers’ Party. The PAP team won with 50.9 percent of the votes.22 Tay contested the Eunos group representation constituency (GRC) for a second time in the subsequent GE held on 31 August 1991. He was part of a four-member PAP team that defeated the Workers’ Party team by receiving 52.4 percent of the votes.23

Tay’s political career spanned some 13 years, with 12 of those years in the Ministry of Education.24 He was minister of state for education from 1 April 1981 to 12 September 1988 and then senior minister of state from 13 September 1988 until his death.25 Tay also served as minister of state for communications and information from 2 January 1985 to 17 February 1986.26


Key contributions
Polytechnic and technical education
On 1 June 1981, Tay became the minister-in-charge of the three industrial and vocational training institutes in Singapore then: Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Technical College, and the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB).27 He was also appointed chairman of VITB that same month.28 Tay went on to play a pivotal role in the development of polytechnics and institutes for technical training in Singapore.29

As the minister-in-charge of polytechnic education, Tay expanded polytechnic enrolment rapidly and established Nanyang Polytechnic, the fourth polytechnic in Singapore, to meet anticipated future demand in the labour market for diploma holders.30

Instrumental in promoting technical education, Tay developed the VITB and laid the foundation for the establishment of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) as a post-secondary educational institution. He took a personal interest in driving national initiatives such as BEST (Basic Education for Skills Training) and WISE (Worker Improvement through Secondary Education) under VITB’s Continuing Education and Training system to raise the educational level of the workforce. In 1992, the ITE was established and it replaced the VITB.31 As chairman of ITE, Tay ensured that the technical training provided by the institute was tailored to the needs of the economy.32 He also set up ITE’s Centre for Music and the Arts to help develop students’ talents, confidence and public speaking skills through music, arts and culture.33

Other education programmes
In addition to developing polytechnic education and technical training, Tay helped set up the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) in 1986 and played a key role in the development of PCF kindergartens.34 He was also responsible for the establishment of the Open University Degree Programme.35

A proponent of computer education, Tay was instrumental in the establishment of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Centre for Computer Studies as well as the Information Communication Institute of Singapore.36

Developing an IT hub
Tay, who was appointed chairman of the Committee on National Computerisation in March 1987, oversaw the implementation of the National IT Plan formulated in 1986.37 A strong supporter of the IT2000 study launched in 1992, Tay served as chairman of the National IT Committee, which was tasked to implement the IT2000 plan to realise the vision of Singapore as an intelligent island.38

Death
Tay had been suffering from a series of major health problems since the 1980s. He died from heart failure and other complications on 5 August 1993 at the age of 53.39

Tributes and legacy
To honour Tay’s legacy, the Tay Eng Soon Scholarship Fund was launched in 1993 to enable ITE graduates to further their education in a polytechnic.40 In addition, the convention centre at the new College Central campus, where ITE’s headquarters is also located, was named the Tay Eng Soon Convention Centre in 2013, while the library at the Singapore Institute of Management headquarters was named the Tay Eng Soon Library.41

Family
Tay married Rosalyn Carson in 1970 when he was in Britain. He had two daughters and a son: Lucy, Su Lian and Robert.42

Political appointments
1980–1988: MP for River Valley constituency

1 Apr 1981–12 Sep 1988: Minister of state for education
2 Jan 1985–17 Feb 1986: Minister of state for communications and information
1988–5 Aug 1993: MP for Eunos GRC
13 Sep 1988–5 Aug 1993: Senior minister of state for education

Other key official appointments43
1970–1978: Lecturer/associate professor at the University of Singapore, Engineering Faculty
1971–1981: Board member, Science Council of Singapore
1972–1974: Board member, Singapore Telephone Board
1974–1981: Board member, Telecommunication Authority of Singapore
1976–1979: Board member, Singapore Science Centre
1978–1980: Director, DSO, MINDEF
1979–1980: Board director, Avimo Singapore Pte Ltd
1979–1980: Board director, Singapore Electronic & Engineering Pte Ltd
1979–1980: Chairman, Samaritans of Singapore
1979–1981: Board member, Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research
1981–1993: Chairman, VITB and subsequently ITE
1986–1992: President, National Kidney Foundation44
Mar 1987: Appointed chairman of Committee on National Computerisation
1990: Appointed chairman of Eunos Town Council45

Awards
1978: Public Service Medal46
4 Dec 1993: Certificate of commendation, PAP47




Author

Cheryl Sim



References
1. Chung, T. M. (1993, August 7). Dr Tay’s last N-Day speech read out to ITE trainees. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
2. University post for our only nuclear scientist. (1970, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Sita, G. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: City Who’s Who, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
3. Teoh, J. S. (1960, February 15). Eng Soon is top boy once again. The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Lee, P. (1980, September 28). Nuclear scientist is the PAP’s no. 8. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Teoh, J. S. (1960, February 15). Eng Soon is top boy once again. The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Barker Road Methodist Church. (n.d.). About BRMC: History. Retrieved from Barker Road Methodist Church website: http://brmc.org.sg/about/the-church; Fernandez, W. (1993, August 9). 2,000-strong congregation bid tearful farewell to Dr Tay Eng Soon. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Background. (1993, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 2; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1993, August 6). A moral man and a good brother. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); Sita, G. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: City Who’s Who, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
8. Teoh, J. S. (1960, February 15). Eng Soon is top boy once again. The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); Sita, G. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: City Who’s Who, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
10. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); Sita, G. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: City Who’s Who, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
11. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
12. Sita, G. (Ed.). (1981). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: City Who’s Who, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WWS)
13. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); Our own nuclear scientist back to face challenges... (1970, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Soh, T. K. (1970, October 8). Tay may be only N-power scientist among the 23. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. New varsity union to look into staff ‘grievances’. (1971, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 7; Clearance not given, so five quit union. (1973, November 7). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Research body has to ‘manage creative tension’. (1997, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 62; Pioneers honoured. (2010, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 12 Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, E. (2012). Goh Keng Swee’s contributions to higher education, military studies and the research institutes. In E. Chew, & C. G. Kwa (Eds.), Goh Keng Swee: A legacy of public service (pp. 229–230). Singapore: World Scientific; Hackensack, NJ: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, p. 230. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 GOH-[HIS])
17. DSO National Laboratories. (2016). Our story. Retrieved from DSO National Laboratories website: https://www.dso.org.sg/dso_story.aspx
18. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
19. Lee, P. (1980, September 28). Nuclear scientist is the PAP’s no. 8. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government of Singapore. (2015, September 14). Parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary.html
20. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. (1980, December 15). (G.N. 79, N.N. 5039). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG)
21. Government of Singapore. (2015, September 14). Parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary.html; Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
22. Government of Singapore. (2015, September 14). Parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary.html; Government of Singapore. (2015, July 22). 1988 parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1988.html; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1993, August 6). A moral man and a good brother. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Government of Singapore. (2015, September 14). Parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary.html; Government of Singapore. (2015, November 2). 1991 parliamentary election results. Retrieved from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1991.html
24. Pioneers honoured. (2010, August 6). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. (1981, April 10). (G.N. 32, N.N. 1449). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 1861. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG); Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. (1988, September 23). (G.N. 51, N.N. 3403). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 7370. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG); Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. (1985, January 18). (G.N. 3, N.N. 156). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 261. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG); Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. (1986, February 28). (G.N. 16, N.N. 627). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 1325. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG)
27. Dr Tay to take charge of three institutes. (1981, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 1; Control of training bodies. (1981, May 30). The Business Times, p. 1; Technical studies to get a boost. (1981, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
29. Law, S. S. (2015). A breakthrough in vocational and technical education: The Singapore story. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. xxiii. (Call no.: RSING 370.113095957 LAW); Goh, C. T. (1993, August 6). A selfless man. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1; Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1993, August 6). A moral man and a good brother. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Chung, T. M. (1993, August 7). Dr Tay’s last N-Day speech read out to ITE trainees. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Law, S. S. (2015). A breakthrough in vocational and technical education: The Singapore story. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, p. xxiii. (Call no.: RSING 370.113095957 LAW)
32. Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Goh, C. L. (2013, November 9). ITE centre to be named after Tay Eng Soon. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2010). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 400. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); Kan Seng and Sidek pay tribute to Dr Tay in N-Day speeches. (1993, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. S’pore IT community mourns loss of a mentor and champion. (1993, August 9). The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. S’pore IT community mourns loss of a mentor and champion. (1993, August 9). The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); lnfocomm Development Authority of Singapore. (2003, March). Connected Singapore: A new blueprint for infocomm development. Singapore: Author, p. 3. Retrieved from lnfocomm Development Authority of Singapore website: https://www.ida.gov.sg/~/media/Files/About%20Us/Corporate%20Publications/Past%20Infocomm%20Plans/Connected.pdf
38. S’pore IT community mourns loss of a mentor and champion. (1993, August 9). The Business Times, p. 13; S’pore ‘has lost an outstanding IT champion’. (1993, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; lnfocomm Development Authority of Singapore. (2003, March). Connected Singapore: A new blueprint for infocomm development. Singapore: Author, p. 3. Retrieved from lnfocomm Development Authority of Singapore website: https://www.ida.gov.sg/~/media/Files/About%20Us/Corporate%20Publications/Past%20Infocomm%20Plans/Connected.pdf
39. A man dedicated to his work. (1993, August 6). The Business Times, p. 2; Ng, W. J. (1993, August 6). Dr Tay Eng Soon dies of acute heart failure. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Top ITE graduates to be offered Tay Eng Soon poly scholarship. (1993, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Goh, C. L. (2013, November 9). ITE centre to be named after Tay Eng Soon. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government of Singapore. (2013, November 8). Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the official opening of ITE headquarters and ITE College Central on 8 November 2013. Retrieved from Prime Minister’s Office Singapore website: http://www.pmo.gov.sg/mediacentre/speech-prime-minister-lee-hsien-loong-official-opening-ite-headquarters-and-ite-college; Singapore Institute of Management. (2016). Contact us. Retrieved from SIM Library website: http://library.sim.edu.sg/SitePages/Contact.aspx
42. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO); University post for our only nuclear scientist. (1970, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
44. Giant jigsaw puzzle raises more than $251,000 for NKF. (1993, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Kan Seng and Sidek pay tribute to Dr Tay in N-Day speeches. (1993, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Dr Tay Eng Soon. (1988, November). In Biographical notes of the president, prime minister and ministers. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.59570922 BIO)
47. PAP awards certificate of commendation to late Dr Tay. (1993, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 22 March 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.

 

Subject
Politics and Government
Politicians
Education
Politics and Government>>Education
Education>>Special education>>Gifted students
Personalities
Tay Eng Soon, 1940-1993
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Cabinet officers--Singapore--Biography
Education>>Higher education
Law and government>>Public administration>>Ministries of state