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.
A review of many undergraduate business schools to serve as a model for SMU narrowed the search down to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 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'."
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, has been home to several institutions, where many political and business leaders of Singapore and Malaysia were educated. In 2001, SMU upgraded and occupied the main campus facilities, balancing the need to refit and refurbish it with state-of-the-art facilities 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.
After five formative years at its Bukit Timah location - during which time four schools, five undergraduate and two graduate degree programmes, the library and three centres of excellence were established - 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 and cultural activity. The campus location is strategic in every sense and will work to the benefit of students, the business community and the public, as SMU pursues its mission to provide a world-class business education and become a global leader in its field.
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, which is to be built at the open space between Armenian Street and Canning Rise. The building is expected to be completed by 2017. 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 will take on a distinct architectural form that is reminiscent of a pearl. It will seat more than 500 people, and will be fully equipped with modern technology and wired for legal research in the 21st century. Also housed within the Law Building will be the David Marshall Moot Court, the SMU Pro Bono Centre and other research centres.
An artist's impression of the School of Law Building at night. The building, incorporating the Kwa Geok Choo Law Library and David Marshall Moot Court, is due to be completed in 2017.
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 2004
Campus Green and the School of Information Systems, on SMU's permanent city centre campus.
Last updated on 4 Oct 2016.