Monday, July 2, 2012

Selling off our heritage: How our medical school disappeared. Happy birthday, our grand old Alma Mater!

Few will, or will care to remember that our present Medical School and indeed, the National University of Singapore was born July 3rd, 1905. So sad.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, Singapore was still training "doctors" by sending qualified students off to Madras. In 1904 a tin trader, Tan Jiak Kim collected the necessary funds and spearheaded a move that would eventually lead to the establishment of our own true-blue Singaporean medical school. This was initially called the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School.

The building it operated in was actually an old women's asylum, located somewhere behind the current grand looking College of Medicine Building at Sepoy Lines (Ministry of Health). The precious heritage building is no more there because in the early 80s, after the medical school relocated from her birthplace to Kent Ridge, the huffy Ministry of Health decided that such useless heritage was not worth preserving and promptly flattened the historical building - replacing it with of all things, a car park!

Ever forward looking, the National University of Singapore seemed also little interested in heritage issues. When in 2005, the Yong Loo Lin Trust donated a "transformational gift" of $100 million to the medical school, the school threw heritage out the window and gratefully renamed itself the Yong Loo Lin Scool of Medicine. It simply didn't matter that no one actually knew who Yong Loo Lin was.

A hundred million dollars was apparently the biggest gift the University had ever received. But it was in truth, a relatively small sum compared to the operating budget of the university. One wonders what would happen now if Gigamole donates $105 million to the University. Can I get the medical school named after me?

It is so easy to sell off our heritage. Sad, and tragic, because it is our heritage that ties us together, and makes us who we are.

But Gigamole remembers. So here's wishing you a happy happy birthday, our dear Alma Mater. Though I am not sure where you are now. Sadly, I don't think the NUS or YLLSOM will remember your birthday today. Last I checked, nothing on their websites.

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