50th Anniversary Dinner of the Economics Honours class of 1966

By Neo Teng Wei (ECONews reporter)

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Held on 15th August this year, Dr Lee Soo Ann (standing, first from left) attended this special gathering. We thank Dr Lee for answering some of our questions as well as providing us with photos and the class book with the students’ reminisces.

The event was organised by Mr Tang Wee Lip, a member of the class of 1966 who took on the job of organising an annual get-together of that class during the 1990s. Since then, the group has been meeting at least once a year, thanks to his hard work.

Since this is the only graduating class to organise an anniversary, Dr Lee supported it as he was the honorary adviser to the NUS Economics Alumni group (it is not a separate organisation but merely a subset of the Economics Department which pays for its mailing cost, hosts the email address and allocated a staff, Diana Binte Ismail, to help out quarter or half-time).

NUS Economics Alumni was started by Mr Tan Tai Kiat, class of 2002 and myself, as a grouping of alumni interested in keeping together. The current president is Chang Rui Hua who is ably assisted by a group of volunteers making up the committee. The website is https://www.nuseconomicsalumni.com/

This class is memorable because of the changing times Singapore went through in 1966. Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 and this dislocated those in Singapore, this class of students entering their undergraduate studies when Singapore was IN Malaysia, and graduating when Singapore was OUT of Malaysia.

There were changes in the university, political landscape and external changes around Singapore.

Changes in the University

With the Federation of Malaya becoming fully independent in August 1957, the formerly known University of Malaya split into two divisions – Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Renamed as University of Singapore, we got a new Singaporean vice-chancellor, Professor Lim Tay Boh. Former appointment holders were British. The class of 1966 were the first to experience a three year honours programme. One of the reasons was accelerating the replacement of expatriate senior civil servants with local talent.

The language of instruction was English to meet the growing needs of the then British colony. Back then most schools taught lessons in Chinese, many prospective students needed to go through further language instruction in order to enroll in the new university, a big challenge to many.

Changes in Political Landscape

Singapore left Malaysia in August 1965, the People’s Action Party (PAP) split in 1961 with left wingers, mostly chinese-educated, forming the Barisan Socialis. Nationalism was strong in the 50’s, drawing strength from both the Chinese and English educated. One of the students from the class of 1966 had leftist views and was politically detained. Two other graduates became ministers of state in the PAP government.

Changes in External Landscape

The class of 1966 went through the Indonesian confrontation in 1963-65, against the formation of Malaysia which led to bombings in Singapore. There was the Brunei opposition against British rule and also escalation of the Vietnam war by the Americans. The separation from Malaysia led to building up of armed forces, disagreements over common currency and formation of National Service.

The class of 1966 became close in the face of changes, going through crises and emerging stronger. They even hold meet ups at least once every year since 1986, despite that they had an English-medium and Chinese-medium divide years ago.

Some quotes from the class book:

“Immediately upon graduation from the Teachers’ Training College, I asked to be posted to Victoria School, my alma mater. That was a fateful move. At Victoria School, I noticed that my fellow teachers who were graduates drew double my salary, or more, even though we put in the same amount of work. So, I was determined to get my degree… any degree would do. While working as a school teacher, I prepared for my “A” level exams and also saved up for my tuition fees. I worked and studied day and night and finally made it.”

Peter Sung

“On reflection, I must say the two subject degree of Economics and Chinese had greatly held my career development. BA Degree opened doors for my employment. Economics helped me to obtain employment in banking jobs as well as understand how to do business in Singapore. Chinese studies helped me acquire business knowhow to penetrate the China market.”

Ng Kim Soon

“My economics training has come in useful in understanding international economic and financial issues in the course of my work. My foreign service experience has embedded in me a sharper sense of what Singapore’s interests are, the realities and challenges, the intricacies of power politics, and the causes for the rise and fall of nations, both big and small. To me, the legacy of a government, or for that matter, of a political leader could only be judged not by what the politicians and social media say, but by results and outcome.”

See Chak Mun

“As it was the final year we were more engrossed in our studies and research work, each going about in his own way. But the study group became more rooted with better understanding and stronger fellowship. In fact, we were more concerned with one another in respect of common subjects. We continued with collecting and sharing exam worthy resource materials. We were earnest that we all would do well and graduate together. We were more conscious of the coming final exams and less aware of the changes outside the campus. The final exams finally came and finished off. It was a great relief. We were happy not so much about the performance but that the group had emerged unscathed. Members of our group had made it, some with flying colours! The climax came when we received the scroll from the first President of Singapore, Inche Yusof Ishak. Soon we marched out of the campus to face the harsh reality outside. We had graduated with new found freedom.”

Foo Kia Toh

“The Sixties was the best time to be in college. Life was simple and promising. If the internet especially “Google” and other social media were readily available they would have influenced the way we viewed our lectures, selection of courses, library books. While it would have helped us in the pursuit of knowledge they could also have been a distraction. The world today has changed so drastically. Life has become so competitive and complicated.”

Pearl Khoo Suat Choo

First published in ECONews in March 2017