Raffles College was set up in 1928 at 469 Bukit Timah Road as a college for higher education in the arts and sciences. Its formation was the result of a scheme to commemorate the centenary of the founding of Singapore by Stamford Raffles (Sir). In 1949, Raffles College merged with 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.1 In 1981, NUS moved out of its Bukit Timah site to its current location at Kent Ridge. The Bukit Timah site was subsequently occupied by several other tertiary institutions before it became NUS’s Bukit Timah Campus in 2005.2
Background and establishment
In 1918, the Centenary Committee headed by colonial administrator George Maxwell (Sir) proposed the establishment of Raffles College to commemorate the founding of Singapore. The Raffles College was designed by London architects, Cyril A. Fahey and Graham R. Dawbarn, who had won a British Empire-wide competition organised for the purpose.3 However, the college commenced operations only a decade later due to a series of delays and unforeseen circumstances.4
Starting with an inaugural batch of 43 students in June 1928,5 Raffles College was officially opened on 22 July 1929 by Hugh Clifford (Sir), then governor of the Straits Settlements and high commissioner for the Malay states. The Chinese and European communities contributed $593,840 and $592,817 respectively to help establish the college. Some major individual contributors were Oei Tiong Ham ($150,000), Tan Soo Guan ($120,000), as well as Eu Tong Sen and Manasseh Meyer (Sir), who each donated sums between $100,000 and $150,000.6
The students of Raffles College were housed in either the FMS Hostel or Eu Tong Sen Hostel. They were to graduate with either a diploma of arts or science after a three-year course.7
As issues over the value and recognition of Raffles College’s diplomas arose, students began to appeal to the government to upgrade the college to a university. Most of the professors 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. It concluded that Raffles College should follow various recommendations for a further five years before becoming a university college. The implementation of these recommendations, however, was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II.8
World War II
Raffles College ceased to function in 1941 with the onset of World War II, and its buildings were turned into a medical facility. The college was used as the headquarters of the Medical Auxiliary Service, which was responsible for providing medical assistance after air raids. Both staff and students volunteered for the Medical Auxiliary Service.9
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), the college grounds were used as the Japanese army’s headquarters in Singapore. The Japanese added a two-storey building on the campus and extended the northern end of the Eu Tong Sen Hostel, following the same architectural style as the original buildings.10
Raffles College reopened on 10 October 1946.11 Following the rediscovery of the pre-war register of students, third-year students before World War II who missed only one term were awarded war diplomas without requiring to sit for further examinations.12
On 8 October 1949, Raffles College and King Edward VII College of Medicine merged to form the University of Malaya. A grand ceremony was held at Oei Tiong Ham Hall to mark the event.13
In the 21 years before the merger, Raffles College produced a total of 573 graduates, including notable personalities such as Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen. In June 1993, 250 Raffles College graduates gathered for a reunion to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its founding.14
The centrepiece of the college crest featured a red double-headed eagle derived from the coat of arms of Stamford Raffles. There were three crowns against a dark blue background, which represented the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. Three sheaves of paddy against a green background were used to represent the Federated and Unfederated Malay States and British Borneo.15
Site and architecture
Raffles College faced Bukit Timah Road and was located alongside Cluny and Dalvey roads. The campus was formed around two quadrangles of grass courtyards with rows of two-storey buildings along the perimeter. The more prominent buildings on the college grounds were the Manasseh Meyer Science School and Oei Tiong Ham Hall.16
After NUS moved to its current campus at Kent Ridge in 1981, the Bukit Timah site was occupied by the Institute of Education (now National Institute of Education under Nanyang Technological University) until 2000. The site was subsequently taken over by Singapore Management University, which later moved to its own campus in July 2005.17 The site currently serves as NUS’s Bukit Timah Campus and houses its Faculty of Law.18
In April 2003, some alumni voiced their concerns over the fate of the Raffles College campus and buildings in Bukit Timah, and appealed for their preservation under the Preservation of Monuments Board Act. The Bukit Timah site was officially gazetted as a national monument on 11 November 2009.19
Guay Ee Ling & Joanna HS Tan
1. Goh Chin Lian, “NUS Stakes Claim on Bukit Timah Campus,” Straits Times, 19 July 2004, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Former Raffles College,” National Heritage Board, accessed 12 December 2016.
3. “Raffles College Opened,” Straits Times, 23 July 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”
4. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”
5. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College”; “Raffles College,” Singapore Free Press, 5 July 1928, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Raffles College Opened.”
7. Edwin Lee and Tan Tai Yong, Beyond Degrees: The Making of the National University of Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1996), 55. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 LEE)
8. “Future of the Colleges,” Straits Times, 8 May 1940, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
9. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”
10. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College”; Ng Wei Kai, “If Buildings Can Talk – Think What Anecdotes,” Straits Times, 29 June 2017, 12. (From NewspaperSG); Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 76.
11. Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 77.
12. Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 78.
13. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College”; Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 83.
14. Leong Chan Teik, “250 Raffles College Grads for Reunion Next Month,” Straits Times, 16 May 1993, 22; Jeremy Au Yong, “NUS Beats NTU to Bukit Timah Campus,” Straits Times, 29 May 2005, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Legend of the Raffles College Crest, 1 July 1950, Photograph, Raffles College. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. 133789)
16. Lee and Tan, Beyond Degrees, 76.
17. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”18. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”
19. National Heritage Board, “Former Raffles College.”
The information in this article is valid as at 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.