NUS has always been close to my heart: Tony Tan Keng Yam

In his time as National University of Singapore chancellor, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam had been a pillar of support for the university as it sought to develop further in education, research and enterprise.
In his time as National University of Singapore chancellor, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam had been a pillar of support for the university as it sought to develop further in education, research and enterprise.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is the place where he studied, built his first career and even found his life partner.

So it is no surprise that the National University of Singapore (NUS) has a special place in the heart of former president Tony Tan Keng Yam. 

“NUS is an institution that holds special significance to me, both personally and professionally,” he said at an appreciation lunch on Thursday (Nov 30) held by the university for him.

Dr Tan was NUS chancellor from 2011 to earlier this year. The chancellor post, according to NUS Constitution, is filled by the President of Singapore.

His ties with the university go way back to 1959, when he was a physics student at the University of Malaya – the predecessor of NUS – at Bukit Timah campus. 

In his first year, he met an arts undergraduate and fell in love. They married five years later in 1964. 

“Both of us were hostelites, staying in Dunearn Road hostels in our first year. Subsequently Mary moved to Eusoff College while I resided in Raffles Hall just across the road from Eusoff. I think that was quite a good arrangement,” he said. 

After graduation, Dr Tan maintained a close relationship with NUS. He began his teaching career in 1964 in the physics department and subsequently the mathematics department. He left the university in 1969 to pursue a career in banking and later, politics. 

Dr Tan returned to NUS in 1980 to become its youngest vice-chancellor at the age of 40. 

“There can be few university chancellors in the world who can claim to have been a student, a lecturer as well as vice-chancellor of the institutions they lead,” said Dr Tan. 

“NUS has come a long way from my days as a student here. The transformation has been amazing,” he said, adding that NUS has done well in becoming a “world-class university that is widely respected for its excellence in education and research”.

NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan said in his speech that Dr Tan had been a pillar of support as chancellor, as the university sought to develop further in education, research and enterprise. 

Dr Tan’s leadership created the environment and conditions for NUS to embark on initiatives such as the University Scholars Programme and the overseas colleges, he said.

“It also allowed NUS to nurture and recruit top academics and build world-class research strengths,” he added.

In addition, Dr Tan was the main driving force behind the setting up of NUS Enterprise, the university’s entrepreneurial arm. 

As a politician, he had played a key role in Singapore’s higher education in his roles such as Education Minister and Minister-in-charge of NUS and the former Nanyang Technological Institute from 1981 to 1983, said Prof Tan.

“Even as the higher education landscape in Singapore grew in size and impact, Dr Tony Tan was ever mindful that university education should always remain accessible, allowing deserving Singaporean students to benefit from the expanded opportunities regardless of their family and financial circumstances.” 

Looking back on his six years as chancellor, Dr Tan said he had witnessed a period of tremendous growth at NUS, from the opening of University Town and the seven-storey NUS Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, to pursuing research that addresses complex societal challenges. 

“Mary and I will continue to follow closely NUS’ continued progress and development – but now as NUS alumni,” he said.