“Policy rift halts Ngee Ann College extension”, “Ngee Ann Board of Governors quit in protest”, “Ngee Ann students start two-day boycott of classes”, “Ngee Ann Students reject the Thong report”, “Jail for all 7 Ngee Ann students”, screamed the headlines of the 1960s.
Even as we celebrate our 45th anniversary, we chronicle how Ngee Ann was born.
Nanyang University, better known as Nantah, is set up with donations from Chinese of all walks of life, who had the common dream of a Chinese university for Chinese throughout Southeast Asia. Mr Lien Ying Chow was one of the founders.
Some of the professors and leaders at Nantah start to realise that their dreams were far from being accomplished. Academic performance was poor, donor millionaires struggled for power, and communist elements had set in. Dr Lien Ying Chow, Professor Liu Yin Soon, and other senior staff break away from the university to establish Ngee Ann College.
Ngee Ann College is inaugurated and is meant to be an alternative to Nantah—an institute of higher education for the Chinese not controlled by communists. The 1,000-strong student population started classes in the temporary Tank Road campus, and shared it with Tuan Mong School. Space at the Teochew Building was so tight, only three lectures could be given each day. Yet the Board of Governors, at that time, had hoped for the College to develop into a university: Ngee Ann University.
Work on the College’s Department of Technology begins at Clementi Road. The Ngee Ann Kongsi was divided on the construction. But the head of its Board of Governors, Mr Lien Ying Chow, pressed on with the expansion programme.
“The building projects mean life and death to us. If we don’t have our own buildings, we will eventually stifle to death.”
- Mr Chua Ah Foh
Student Union Chairman
(The Straits Times, June 5, 1965)
Construction work is suspended. The College’s Student Union holds a protest meeting in the College’s auditorium to persuade the Kongsi to resume work, and called for the College to be developed into a full-fledged university as soon as possible.
All 1,000 students boycott classes for two days in protest over what they called the Kongsi’s “evasive attitude”. After a three-hour emergency meeting, the Kongsi decided to proceed with the construction. Students held a victory meeting, but just two weeks later, said the Kongsi was “insincere” and declared an indefinite boycott on lectures. Their second boycott lasted 27 days, and during this time students tried to protest outside the Ministry of Education.
The Thong Saw Pak Report recommends that the College be re-organised under its own council, and not restrict itself to Chinese as the language of instruction. According to The Straits Times, Oct. 11, 1966, the students said: “The recommendations are retrogressive, and if implemented will cause the degradation and demotion of the college into a junior college.”
Ngee Ann College students marched to City Hall to protest against the Thong Saw Pak report.
The College accepted the Thong Saw Pak report and decided to redirect its focus to diploma-level technical programmes.
The College moved from Tank Road to its current Clementi Road campus, with over 10 hectares of land donated by the Kongsi (today the campus stands on over 60 hectares). It was also renamed Ngee Ann Technical College (now Ngee Ann Polytechnic).
Researched and compiled by Lee Xian Jie, Editor. Photographs scanned from The Ngee Ann Story, The First 25 Years (1963-1988). With thanks to the Singapore Press Holdings Information and Resource Centre.
CORRECTION APPENDED NOV. 25 2008: 1965 May and 1965 June were typed as 1964 May and 1964 June. We are sorry for the error.
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