NTU launches book on its history penned by founding president Cham Tao Soon

NTU launches book on its history penned by founding president Cham Tao Soon

SINGAPORE - The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) launched on Monday a book charting the story of its predecessor, the Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI).

Get the full story from The Straits Times.

Here is the press release from NTU:

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched a new book that charts the untold story of its early years which had laid the foundation stones of NTU's success today as a global university of high international repute.

The Making of NTU - My Story details the pioneering journey of the University's first President, President Emeritus Cham Tao Soon, and his team who built the University's predecessor institution, the Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI), and steered its development into a full-fledged university named Nanyang Technological University.

It vividly traces the dramatic transformation of the University from an old rundown building in the middle of a jungle and farmland thick with trees and overgrown weeds, into the sprawling modern campus today that has been named one of the world's 15 Most Beautiful Campuses.

Among the memorable episodes in the book is how the $170 million budget for the then-NTI campus was approved by the Singapore government within a week. This was after an official at the Ministry of Finance rang, chasing for a figure on the expected budget. Prof Cham recounted that he found an envelope and did a quick, literally back-of-the-envelope calculation, to submit to the ministry.

"Everything was high speed", said Prof Cham in the book. In January 1981, it was announced that NTI would get a multi-million dollar complex for its engineering education facilities, library and administrative offices. As Prof Cham recalled in the book: "This incident impressed upon me that NTU was not merely an educational institution - it was also a political one. The Ministry of Finance knew that the PM (Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) himself had an eye on it."

Other interesting inside stories by Prof Cham include how then-PM Lee Kuan Yew used to walk around the campus on weekends and had suggested improvements, such as covered walkways, as it could get very hot walking from one building to another. When a proposal was put up to the Ministry of Finance, their initial response was: "It's cheaper to give every student an umbrella." Prof Cham also shared how thorny issues were discussed and key decisions taken by his senior management over fish head curry lunch every Thursday at a Jurong coffee shop.

The book was launched earlier today by Mr S R Nathan, former Singapore President and former NTU Chancellor, as well as the former Director of NTU's defence think tank, the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. The event was attended by distinguished guests and key figures in the University's history, including NTI's first chairman Dr Michael Fam and Mr Ch'ng Jit Koon, former Senior Minister of State for Community Development.

"It is important that there is a proper account of the NTI story and NTI's transformation into NTU, told by none other than its first president Prof Cham Tao Soon, who spent 22 years nurturing it," said NTU President, Prof Bertil Andersson, who took over from the university's second President, Prof Su Guaning. "I have inherited a wonderful institution built on ideas which were ahead of their time, and powered by ideals that have not waned with time. NTU is where it is today, because we had such a solid foundation to build on."

The idea for the book came from Prof Andersson and NTU's Provost, Prof Freddy Boey, who both felt that an in-depth account of the foundation stones of NTU was missing. They broached the idea of a book based on Prof Cham's recollections of the University's early days. As NTU's first president, he was the best person to narrate NTU's first 20 years of development. The book is also expected to be a useful resource for those interested in the path the University had gone through.

In his foreword for the book, Singapore President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam - whom Prof Cham credits as "the driving force behind NTI's amazingly quick implementation" - noted: "This book is an important addition to our understanding of NTU's development and its place in the story of Singapore's development."

Prof Freddy Boey said: "I was among the first-generation faculty hired by Prof Cham, so I witnessed first-hand the fascinating story of NTI and later NTU. Prof Cham was a very decisive leader. He worked fast and grasped opportunities well. It's never easy to start a university from the ground up, but he did it in a very short time, establishing a robust platform for NTU to excel in engineering and technology. We owe him a great deal for NTU's success today."

The new NTI campus was officially opened in November 1986 with three engineering schools, but plans were already afoot for the opening of the fourth school. The School of Accountancy was formed the following year, and would later become the Nanyang Business School, which is today consistently ranked amongst the world's top business schools.

In the book, Prof Cham squashes the rumours circulating back then that the female-dominated accountancy school was added as part of a social engineering ploy to find lifelong partners for the engineering students.

By July 1991, NTU had become a university in its own right and awarded its own degrees. Students graduating in the watershed year of 1991 could opt for a degree awarded by either NUS or NTU. Eighty per cent chose the NTU degree. In its early years, the newly established NTU swiftly added Education, Communication and Security Studies to its slate of undergraduate and graduate course offerings.

The rapid pace of development continues to this day, as NTU opened six more schools in the last 13 years. These include the School of Biological Sciences (2001), School of Humanities and Social Sciences (2004), School of Art, Design and Media and School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (both in 2005), the Interdisciplinary Graduate School (2012) and the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (2013).

Today, NTU is ranked No. 41 internationally and is one of the fastest-rising universities in the world.

Having built the university "from scratch", Prof Cham concluded that "the uniqueness and success of NTU is down to the people".

In his foreword, President Tony Tan said: "Through Prof Cham's accounts, such as how he and his team overcame the bureaucratic maze and tight budgets to double the number of engineers entering the workforce each year, readers will appreciate that NTU's achievements came about not by chance but by the belief, perseverance and resourcefulness of its leadership and staff."

The hardcover book, priced at $32.50 (before GST), will be available at major bookstores. NTU alumni can also order the book from the Alumni Affairs Office and students can purchase it at the campus bookstores.

Purchase this article for republication.



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