Skip to content Skip to navigation


The Beginning

It was in 1997 that the Singapore government first mooted the idea of a third university for Singapore. Then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan believed that the new university should be different from the two established institutions - the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The government wanted SMU to be an experiment in diversity.

The experiment began with the choice of the Chairman of the new institution, Mr Ho Kwon Ping, a renowned and successful business entrepreneur. He was joined by an SMU task force of academics, including Professor Tan Chin Tiong, who determined that SMU should be an American-style university offering a broad-based education, in contrast to Singapore's tradition of the more specialised British model.

Last updated on 11 Sep 2017 .

Wharton-SMU collaboration

The Wharton-SMU Relationship

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania was chosen to serve as a model for SMU, after an extensive review of many undergraduate business schools.

The Wharton-SMU agreement was signed in February 1999, followed in June by the Wharton-SMU Research Centre collaboration.

In July 1999, Professor Janice Bellace, then Deputy Dean of the Wharton School, commenced a two-year term as SMU's first president. Dr Tony Tan remarked at that time about the SMU-Wharton relationship: "We hope to be able to tap the expertise and support of Wharton's faculty and extensive alumni network of public and private sector leaders, while offering Wharton a 'beach-head in Asia'."

Bukit Timah Campus

In 2000, SMU made its first home at a single, two-storey building on Evans Road at the edge of the Bukit Timah Campus. Often referred to as “the cradle of tertiary education in Singapore”, the campus officially opened as Raffles College in 1929. The campus was home to several institutions, educating many political and business leaders of Singapore and Malaysia.

In 2001, SMU occupied and upgraded the main campus facilities, with state-of-the-art technology, while preserving the heritage of its graceful colonial architecture.

From 2001-2004, Professor Ronald Frank served as SMU's second president. He was succeeded by Professor Howard Hunter (2004-2010) followed by Professor Arnoud De Meyer.

SMU's interim campus at Bukit Timah

SMU's interim campus at Bukit Timah

"From its conception, SMU was designed to provide a different model of university education here in Singapore. We wanted to start with a clean slate instead of just adding another public university in the mould of the exiting ones. From this starting point emerged a confluence of factors that make SMU special."

Dr Tony Tan
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Singapore
SMU Commencement 2014

Bras Basah Campus

In five formative years, the Bukit Timah location established four schools, five undergraduate and two graduate degree programmes, the library and three centres of excellence. SMU made a symbolic move to its new and permanent city campus in the Bugis-Bras Basah District in July 2005.

The area has a long association with Singapore education and is also a centre of commercial, art and cultural activity.

The campus location is strategic in every sense and serves to benefit students, the business community and the public, as SMU pursues its mission to be a world-class business educator and global leader in its field.

SMU's campus green in the city

Campus Green and the School of Information Systems, on SMU's permanent city centre campus

Kwa Geok Choo Law Library at SMU's School of Law

The Kwa Geok Choo Law Library

A New Chapter

A new chapter in the success story of SMU and the University’s School of Law began on 20 January 2014, with the ground-breaking ceremony for the School’s own building, built at the open space between Armenian Street and Canning Rise.

A key feature integrated into the new building is the Kwa Geok Choo Law Libray, named in memory of the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The 2,600 square metres Law Library takes on a distinct architectural form that is reminiscent of a pearl. It seats more than 500 people, and is fully equipped with modern technology and wired for legal research in the 21st century. Also housed within the Law Building is the David Marshall Moot Court, the SMU Pro Bono Centre and other research centres.