university malaya



The establishment of the university began with the issue of shortage of medical assistants in the Crown Colonies of Singapore and Penangduring the late 1890s. The matter arose with such problem was addressed in a report published by the Education Commission in April 1902. In the report, it was stated that the Commission was in favour to establish a medical school to produce the local inhabitants to fulfil the demand of medical assistants in government hospitals. However, such view was not in favour among the European community, as they aware that education had been given great attention in India, as a result that Colony often demands over their rights from the Colonial administration.
In September 1904, a petition led by a prominent Chinese leader in Singapore, Tan Jiak Kim, who was also a member of the Straits Legislative Council presented to the newly appointed Governor, Sir John Anderson over their concern for the establishment of a medical school. Sir John, who was a far sighted man, took such idea into his consideration. And within a month, he estimated that the cost for building such school would require a sum of $84,000. His main concern was to the petitioners’ willingness to raise the sum to fund the building of the school. As for Sir John himself on behalf of the Government, kept his word to bear the expanses of staff and maintenance of the school. Surprisingly, the petitioners agreed to take Sir John’s offer, and a meeting was called at the Chinese Protectorate Office in Singapore.
The fundraising was a success, with the Singapore Chinese community contributed $57,000 (Tan Jiak Kim personally donated $12,000), the Penang Chinese community $20,000, MrLoke YewC.M.G. under the name Selangor General Farm contributed $9,000, and a sum of $3,000 was given by Mr E. Chin Seng of Saigon, the only donor not from the Colony. The total collection was $87,077.
Upon the success of financing the school, legislation was enacted and passed by the Straits Legislative Council in June 1905 under Ordinance No. XV 1905. Thus, the school was opened on 3 July 1905 but was not functioned until September. On 28 September 1905, Sir John officiated the school under the name ‘The Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School.’
The school had a Council to monitor its welfare, the Chairman of the Council must be a senior Government medical officer (namely the Principal Civil Medical Officer, later the Director of Medical Services) and the members of the Council were representatives of the Straits and Federated Malay States Governments, and members of public representative were Messrs DrLim Boon KengTan Jiak KimTan Kheam HockJ.P.Lee Choon GuanM.B.E.J.P.

The Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School (1905 – 1912)

The school was first located in the old Female Lunatic Asylum near the Singapore General Hospital at Sepoy Lines off New Bridge Road, four of the Asylum buildings were converted into a rudimentary medical school. In 1907, a lecture hall and laboratory were annexed. There were no library and room to keep pathological specimens.
In 1905, there were only 17 medical students, four students attending the hospital assistant course. Five years later, the number of enrolments increased to 90 medical students and 30 trainee hospital assistants. The school had only one permanent staff which was the Principal, the teaching staff was employed on a part-time basis. The then Principal was Dr Gerald Dudley Freer, whom previously served as Senior Colonial Surgeon Resident of Penang.
Oversee the matter, in the early 1910, Tan Jiak Kim agreed to raise $15,000 to purchase the needs of books and science apparatuses, including a proper place to store the pathological specimens, in which it had reached more than 300 specimens and was then kept at a temporary museum. Soon after his commitment to help the medical school, Tan Jiak Kim went to Malacca, where he returned back Singapore with the news that Malacca Municipal Councillor, Tan Chay YanJ.P. would fund the entire cost of erecting a building for the school.
Tan Chay Yan, J.P. on the name of his late father, Tan Teck GuanJ.P. financially supports the construction of Tan Teck Guan Building. The building was designed by Draper and opened on 23 June 1911 by Acting Governor E.L. Brockman, CMG. Tan Teck Guan Building with its imposing Georgian fa├žade with Neoclassical features was had a pathology museum, physiology and anatomy laboratories, a lecture room, library and reading room, offices and stores.
From the early years of its establishment, the School Council worked hard to gain recognition of its Diploma by the General Council of Medical Education in the United Kingdom. It was a vital step to ensure that the Licentiate of Medicine and Surgery Diploma offered by the school would gain worldwide recognition. As a result of such determination, the Council tried to meet the strict requirements of the General Council of Medical Education (GCME), by tabling a five-year course medical curriculum as what required by GCME.
In 1910, Dr Robert Donald Keith became the second Principal of the School. He outlined that in the first two years of the five-year course were devoted to pure science studies. Physics, biology and chemistry were taught in the first year, followed by physiology and elementary anatomy in the second year. The remaining three years were attachment to clinical clerkships in medicine, surgery and midwifery, which covered pathology, hygiene and medical jurisprudence. Materia Medica was also integrated into the fourth year, where practical pharmacy was taught.
Clinical Clerkship was a practical training that to emphasise the theoretical medical knowledge. Students were posted to several hospitals, initially at the Singapore General Hospital. From 1908 onwards, attachments were made to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (for medicine and surgery) and Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital (for midwifery).

King Edward VII School of Medicine (1912 – 1921)

In 1912, the medical school received an endowment of $120,000 from the King Edward VII Memorial Fund, started by Dr Lim Boon Keng. Subsequently on 18 November 1913, the name of the school was changed to the King Edward VII School of Medicine.
Ever since its humble establishment in 1905, the medical school had a number of professional and dedicated teaching staff who run in and out from the serving the school, as all of them served on a part-time basis. This process went on for almost 15 years, with one exception, G.W. Crawford, a qualified dispensing chemist, where he taught Pharmacy in 1909 until 1926.
Dr Keith and the School Council took great efforts to attract more professionals into serving the school by offering ‘honorary lecturers’ to people with special expertise in medical field, their attention was firstly to the Government officers with distinguished service. Among those who took the posts were Dr Lim Boon Keng taught Materia Medica Therapeutics, H.N. Ridleys the Director of Singapore Botanic Garden taught Botany, Dr Gilbert Brooke Port Health Officer taught Hygiene. Government Pathologist Dr G.A. Finlayson taught Pathology, Medical Officer Dr H.J. Gibbs taught Psychological Medicine, Dr David James Galloway (later Sir) taught Physiology.
As time passed, Dr Keith, the school Principal had contributed a very well-established collection of pathological specimens for the school’s pathology museum. In which, in later the pathology museum was named after him.
The competition within the school was high. The high standards regulated by the school had cause a number of students to drop out. In the first batch of 16 students of 1905, only seven made to the final and graduated in May 1910 while the remaining six students graduated in four months later and others resigned from the school. In 1919, the drop-out rate had risen to 35%, while in 1939 the number of students failed in their final examinations stood at 44%.
In 1916, it was a celebrated time for the school, when GCME finally recognised the Licentiate of Medicine and Surgery Diploma offered by the School. As a result, the licentiates were placed on the General Council’s Colonial List of the British Medical Register and were entitled to practise in anywhere within the British Empire. It was during this time too, a hostel was built to accommodate 72 male students from various Federated Malay States.
In 1918, F.S. James, the Colonial Secretary pointed out to the Straits Legislative Council that the existing annual revenue of the School of around $46,000 was insufficient to cover the cost of providing the students a proper medical education. In 1919, the Straits Medical Department published a report on the school’s progress. In the report it addressed the inadequate teaching staff and facilities including latest medical equipment. The report also proposed to construct a new building to cater all the teaching facilities, apart from increasing the salaries and provision of fringe benefits.
In 1919, a Chair in Physiology was created with money donated from the King Edward VII Foundation. The first holder of the Chair was Dr J.A. Campbell, who was a Professor of Physiology in the School in 1912 until 1921. During this time too, the School welcomed a new Principal, Dr George Hugh MacAlister, who served the School as Professor of Clinical Medicine and Lecturer on Therapeutics (1918 – 1929)

King Edward VII College of Medicine (1921 – 1949)

In 1921, the School was elevated its status to College. It was then well-established in the British Empire within a short period of time and had received international recognition. In between 1920 and 1930, the College went through a series of transformations, by replacing the old teaching staff with a younger generation of professionals and also nine new Chairs were created, the first in Anatomy in 1920, followed by Medicine, Surgery, and Midwifery & Gynaecology in 1922 and Clinical Surgery, Bacteriology, Biology, Bio-Chemistry, and Dental Surgery in 1926. And the tenth Chair for Pathology was created in 1935.
In the late 1923, the College’s new building at Outram Road was commenced. It was completed in November 1925 and officially opened by Sir Lawrence Guillemard in February 1926. During the opening ceremony, the College conferred Honorary Diploma on Sir David James Galloway, Dr Malcolm Watson and Dr Lim Boon Keng.
As time passed, more professionals were attached to serve the school, Dr Wilfred Chambers (a senior Medical Officer) and Professor J.C. Smith served as Professor of Clinical Surgery. Dr Frederick Sayers and Dr John Webster also served briefly as Professor of Medicine. Dr J.W. Scharff, the Chief Health Officer of Singapore joined the service by teaching Biology.
In 1929, Dr George V. Allen the new principal took the helm, succeeding his predecessor Dr MacAlister. MacAlister was noted for his success in expanding the school’s development. In the coming years, Allen had envisioned to turn the College into a University.
Despite its rapid expansion, the School had gained the reputation for having distinguished young teaching staff. Among of it, the Professor of Clinical Surgery, A.D. Wright, who was a young gentleman with impressive knowledge in surgeries. His counterpart, Kenneth Black, a former student of Arbuthnot Lane was known as “one of the fastest surgeons in England.” Black whom served the School for almost 15 years until 1936 had introduced ophthalmology studies into the School’s curriculum.

Raffles College (1929 – 1949)

The establishment of Raffles College was a brainchild of Sir Stamford William Raffles and Dr Robert Morison. Sir Stamford the founding father of Singapore had articulate knowledge in the Malay language and culture, while Dr Morison was a distinguished sinologist missionary. Both men had wanted to establish a centre dedicating to the study of Malays and Chinese in a tertiary level.
On 5 June 1823, a site designated for an education institution was laid its foundation stone by Sir Stamford. Soon after that, Sir Stamford left for England and Dr Morrison left for China, thus the establishment of the school never took off. The school building was later found in derelict state and occupied by thieves. It was later revived into a fine English school named the Raffles Institution, in which today a renowned secondary school not only in Singapore but worldwide.
The road to the establishment of Raffles College was annotated through a series of establishment of several Colleges in the Federated Malays States, prior to that R.J. Wilkinson played his role in forming the Malacca Malay College (1902) and the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (1905). Years later, Richard Winstedt (later Sir) found the Sultan Idris Teachers Training College (1922).
In 1918, Sir George Maxwell, the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements headed the Maxwell Committee to review the scheme to commemorate he centenary of the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford. The committee members were Roland BraddellA.W. StillSeah Ling Seah, Dr Lim Boon Keng, Iman Mohammed Yusoff bin MohammedN.V. Samy, andMannesseh Meyer. The working committee headed by H.W. Firmstone, the Director of Education recommended for the establishment of a college for tertiary education as commemorating the centenary founding of Singapore.
On 12 July 1919, the Government decided to undertake the construction of the building with the costing not more than $1,000,000 and would contribute $50,000 as annual recurrent expenditure as soon as the Centenary Committee had collected $2,000,000 for the Raffles College Endowment Fund. On 31 August 1920, the Committee had achieved the figure, amounting to $2,391,040.
On 31 May 1920, Richard Winstedt was appointed to the Acting Principal of Raffles College. The course offered was a three-year basis. The establishment of the school was seen far more systematic compared to the King Edward VII Medical College. The school was situated at a site called the Economic Gardens and was designed by Cyril A. Farey and Graham Dawbarn. And the construction took place in 1926.
Though the school had yet fully constructed, but the enrolment of its early batch of 43 students took place on 1 June 1928. However, within less than a month the number reduced to 29 with students resigned themselves. The school itself gained not much support from various European residents, among of it, Chief Justice for the Straits Settlements, Sir Walter Shaw who argued that it was just a mere daunted hope for the Government to provide the Malayans with tertiary education. Dr Noel Clarke, a member of the Legislative Council also pointed that the standards of local secondary education were insufficient to qualify a person to get in the College education.
Despite the personal arguments over the establishment of the school, the prominent Chinese residents in Singapore too had not shown their full support to it. Both Richard Winstedt and Sir Hugh Clifford expressed their disappointments over the little contribution by the wealthy Chinese community in the College Endowment Fund.
On 22 July 1929, Raffles College was established to promote arts and social sciences at tertiary level for Malayan students. The courses offered were divided into Art and Science streams. Four years later of its founding year, the College Council proposed few changes in the curriculum, so that the Diploma can be furthered to a Degree through external examinations in collaboration with universities in England.
In 1937, Governor Sir Shenton Thomas declared the College would have full-time Principal. By the time, the College had its fourth Principal, Alexander Keir, succeeding Frederick Joseph Morten. By 1939 war was waged in Europe, and had put a halt to the development of the College. The war in Europe was furthered to Asia, and World War II was waged and Singapore was occupied by the Japanese troops in February 1942, so as to the whole Malay States.
After the war, the school was reopened and W.E. Dyer acted shortly two-year as the Principal. The future of Raffles College was uncertain, until 1948 when Dr George V. Allen (later Sir) who was formerly the Principal of King Edward VII Medical College posted as the last Principal of Raffles College, before the College amalgamated with the former to form a larger dream, which was the making of a University for the people of Malaya.

University of Malaya (1949 – present)

Evolution of the University of Malaya
Evolution of the University of Malaya.png
The formation of the University for the people of Malaya had received mixed response from the public throughout the country. As the institution was to provide quality and self-belonging of the Malayans in British Malaya, it incurred that the University was merely more to form an identity to the nation itself.
The running of the University was most likely to be the same in the United Kingdom and possibly through the merger of the two prestigious Colleges in Singapore. The question was whether the Government could ensure how many young Malayans could be benefited under the establishment of such institution, as illiteracy rate among people in British Malaya still considerably high.
As the nation itself derived its name from the native of Malay race, without a doubt such establishment of higher education shall benefit to them the most. However, the Malays still remain meagre in education and mostly left out forever, though there had been well established Colleges in the Colony, in which had not really benefited them (except the aristocrats).
Despite such questions, in 1938 the Government appointed a Commission under the chairmanship of Sir William H. McLean to study the higher education potential and progress in Malaya. The Commission concluded that Malaya had not ready to own a University, however, it opined that a University College would more suitable at that time. In 1939, the Higher Education in the British Colonies appointed a Commission led by Justice Asquith to further study the matter. The Commission too shared the same opinion as the former McLean Commission.
In 1946, Dr Raymond Priestley, the Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University was invited by the British Malaya Government to continue the review of setting up a University for Malaya. Unfortunately, the Priestly Commission too shared the same opinion as the McLean Commission, which was to form a University College first.
Despite few attempts by the alumnus of the former two Colleges to impress those Commissions, their efforts were mean to futile. In 1947, the Secretary of State for the Colonies appointed Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders to chair a commission to study the development of tertiary education in Malaya. Initially, the Carr-Saunders Commission shared the same opinion as the McLean Commission. However, after the report was completed (but not yet summited to the Secretary of State), Sir Alexander spent some time to hear the thought from the Alumni Association of the King Edward VII College and also the Medical College Students Union. He was impressed with the idea of the President of the Students Union, Dr K. Shamugaratnam. In 1948, the Carr-Saunders Commission supported the establishment of a University for the Malayans of all walk of lives, regardless race or religion.
As a result, a University named the University of Malaya was chartered under Carr-Saunders Commission in 1949. The formation of University of Malaya on 8 October 1949 in Singapore was under the merger of King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College, where the latters were established in 1905 and 1929, respectively.
In Carr-Saunders Commission’s report in 1949, it was stated that the University shall act as a single medium of mingle for enhancing the understanding among the multi-ethnics and religions in the back than Malaya. The University too should be modelled after the tertiary educations in the United Kingdom of Great Britain in term of academic system and administration structure.
The Carr-Saunders Commission postulates “the principle that all children who show the necessary capacity should enjoy an equal chance of reaching the University; and, in particular, that no able child should be handicapped in climbing the educational ladder by race, religion, rural domicile, or lack of means.”
In 1959, the University was divided into two autonomous campuses, one in Singapore and the other in Kuala Lumpur. In 1961, the governments of Malaysia and Singapore passed the legislation to make the University as a national university of their own. As a result of such desire, on 1 January 1962 the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur was permanently located on a 309 hectare land and remained with the name. However, the campus in Singapore became the University of Singapore (today National University of Singapore).
On June 16, 1962, the university celebrated the installation of its first ChancellorTunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first Prime Minister. The first Vice-Chancellor was former Dean, SirAlexander Oppenheim, the world renowned mathematician who formulated the Oppenheim conjecture in 1929. When Oppenheim left in 1965 with no successor in sight, Rayson Huangwho later went on to become the first Asian Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, was asked to take over as the Acting Vice Chancellor. He served in that capacity for 12 months but declined reappointment in order to return to academic pursuits.
Chin Fung Kee, an authority in geotechnical engineering,replaced Huang as Acting Vice-Chancellor until the university succeeded in filling the position in 1967 by the appointment ofJames H.E. Griffiths. A distinguished physicist and a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Griffiths was also the former head of Clarendon Laboratory of Oxford University and one of the discoverers of ferromagnetic resonance.

Coat of Arms

The University of Malaya’s Coat of Arms was designed under a Council established in 1961, Chaired by Tan Sri Y.C. Foo. The committees involved in the design were the Chairman of the Council, Y.C. Foo, Professor A. Oppenheim (the Vice-Chancellor) and Professor Ungku Aziz (later Regius Professor). The Coat of Arms was officially chartered in April 1962 by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the University’s first Chancellor.
The Coat of Arms is divided into two parts, namely the Chief (upper part) and the Base (remaining parts other than the upper part). The Chief consists of a bundle of seventeen strips of Borassur Flabellifer or Palmrya Palm. These strips were used as printed material for ancient books by the Malays, long before paper was invented. On the centre of these seventeen strips, is printed with the University’s motto ‘Ilmu Puncha Kemajuan’. The University’s motto bears a significant meaning, with the word ‘Ilmu’ derived from Arabic and ‘Puncha’ from Sanskrit, as for ‘Kemajuan’ is from Malay itself. Combined altogether, these words meaning knowledge is the source of progress.
In the centre of the emblem, is a hibiscus of Rosa-Sinensis species encircled by three Malayan tigers. The tigers symbolise the three main races in Malaysia (Malays, Chinese and Indians), who work hand-in-hand to protect the nation and uphold the duty to serve the country.


In 1968, economist Ungku Abdul Aziz succeeded Griffiths as Vice-Chancellor, making him the second Malaysian after Chin to be elevated to the highest executive office in UM and the first Malaysian to be appointed as full Vice-Chancellor. This development was a precursor to the introduction of ethnic quotas into public universities with the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1971.

On May 1, 2006, the first woman Vice-Chancellor when former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya and later assistant governor of Bank Negara MalaysiaRafiah Salim, was appointed to the position.


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