Nanyang University

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Nanyang University
Motto People, Progress and Productivity
Type Chinese language, Defunct
Active 1956–1980
Founder Tan Lark Sye
Location Singapore Singapore
1°20′33.9526″N 103°40′57.0083″E / 1.342764611°N 103.682502306°E / 1.342764611; 103.682502306Coordinates: 1°20′33.9526″N 103°40′57.0083″E / 1.342764611°N 103.682502306°E / 1.342764611; 103.682502306
Campus Urban
500 acres (2 km²)
Closed in 1980, assets taken over by the English language National University of Singapore
Main Building of Nanyang University, Singapore
A surviving monument of Nanyang University, at Nanyang Technological University. See higher resolution version.

Nanyang University (Chinese: 南洋大学, abbreviated Nantah, 南大) was a university in Singapore from 1956 to 1980. During its existence, it was Singapore's only Chinese language post-secondary institution. In 1980, Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore to form the National University of Singapore (NUS).


The idea of a Chinese university in Singapore to provide higher education to the Chinese community was first mooted by Tan Lark Sye in 1953, then chairman of the Singapore Hokkien Association. A fund was set up for this purpose, drawing donations from people of all walks of life and with Tan himself donating $5 million. The Singapore Hokkien Association donated 500 acres (2 km²) in the western Jurong area, which was then largely undeveloped rural land.

Nanyang University started classes on 15 March 1956, offering courses in the arts, sciences and commerce. Construction of the entire campus was not completed until two years later. In 1958 the university held its official opening ceremony, officiated by Tan and then-Governor William Goode.

Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore in 1980 to form the National University of Singapore (NUS), in part due to the government's desire to pool the two institutions' resources into a single, stronger entity and promote the English language as Singapore's only main language. The proposal of a merger was pushed by then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who feared potential social issues as he saw that the students who enter it usually have poorer grades and may not be able to compete against English-educated graduates for jobs, and may create unrest.[1]

The merger was met with strong opposition from the university's alumni in particular, as well as the Chinese community. They considered the university a people's university due to their financial contributions and believed it is a bastion of Chinese education, culture, and social development. They also believed that the merger was a political move by the Singapore government. The promotion of a single education system based on English medium of instruction in pre-tertiary education, however, severely reduced the student catchment pool of Nantah, thus hastening its demise. Education with Chinese as the main medium at university level thus ended with the decision of this merger.

With the merger, the Nanyang University grounds was taken over by a new technical institute, the Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI), in 1981. In 1991, the NTI was upgraded to university status as Singapore's second English-medium university, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). NTU is technically a distinct institution from the old Nanyang University, and has a distinctively different culture from the former institution although the name Nanyang continues to be used. There have been calls to rename NTU as Nanyang University to bring back the old heritage, particularly with the support of NU's alumni. The administration of NTU has long resisted this move, and the idea receives a lukewarm response from the alumni and current students of the new institution. Many alumni members of NU object to the move, citing the distinction between the two institutions and the need to preserve the heritage of the old university.[2] Part of the opposition stems from concerns over confusion in the market and the effect it may have on the industry goodwill NTU has cultivated over the years.

The NTU administration finally relented and announced the decision to rename Nanyang Technological University as Nanyang University in 2005, justifying the move based on the university's introduction of non-technology-related schools and its expansion into a full multidisciplinary university. A year before this came into effect, the administration backtracked and postponed the move.[3]


The three circles in the logo represent values long held to be important in Chinese tradition. They represent a trinity of values: people, progress and productivity. The linking shows the interdependence between the need for people to work together productively and achieve progress. This symbol can now be seen in the National University of Singapore's crest. The circle with the yellow star represents "people," signifying the importance placed on human capital in Singapore.


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