Oral History Collection


Soon Kwong John YIP

Publication Type


Date of Interview



Patricia Meyer


Singapore Management University, SMU, John Yip, Tony Tan, Singapore tertiary education, Singapore Ministry of Education, Singapore education, third university, university places, history, university founding, beginnings, concept paper, management school, economics school, business school, British education model, American education model, differentiation, university administration, university admissions, Tan Teck Meng, infrastructure investment, Singapore Institute of Management SIM, adult education, National University of Singapore NUS, Nanyang Technological University NTU, university campus, Bukit Timah Campus, city campus, Bras Basah Road, business education, university admissions, marketing, university curriculum, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, pedagogy, autonomous university, personnel management, successful experiment, government policy, education policy, American-style education


The interview covered: first involvement with SMU, future needs of university education in Singapore, business education, third university, Singapore Institute of Management, achievements.


Executive Director and CEO, Singapore Institute of Management, 1997–2003
Director of Education, MOE, 1987–1996

Dr John Yip Soon Kwong played a major role in developing the concept for Singapore’s third university, Singapore Management University. With his first-hand knowledge of international universities as well as his knowledge of Singapore’s education system, he was part of the early effort to define the scope of Singapore’s third university and to identify an overseas university partner for this new institution.

With a career spanning four decades in education, John Yip made extensive contributions to education policies and practices. In 1987 he was appointed director of education in the Ministry of Education. He introduced new initiatives for schools, significantly in the areas of school autonomy and curriculum development. He emphasized creative and critical thinking skills and a ‘learning how to learn’ approach to education. The aim was to prepare students to be successful in today’s global and rapidly-changing work world, while responding to the growing demand for tertiary education in Singapore. He represented Singapore in a six-country collaborative research project—led by University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education—on the nexus between education and economic development.

In 1997 John Yip became executive director and CEO of the Singapore Institute of Management. During this time he authored the concept paper on the scope and form of the new third university. He was involved in the appointment of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to consult on the development of the third university. He served on the boards of a number of organisations tasked with education, science, the arts, and the environment.

He is co-editor of the book, Evolution of Educational Excellence, which traces the Singapore Government's efforts in building up a good education system. John Yip received several National Day awards including the Public Administration (Gold) Award (1981) and the Meritorious Service Award (1991). In recognition of his contributions to education he was awarded Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques in 1993 by the French government.

He obtained his bachelor of science from the then University of Malaya in Singapore in 1960. He received honorary doctorates from Loughborough University, UK (1997) and from the Open University of the UK (2003).


Asian Studies | Higher Education | Higher Education Administration

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This is an abridged version of the original interview. Please contact the Library at library@smu.edu.sg for access to the full version of the transcript and/or audio recording.

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