“While Singapore is a very prosperous country, the number of needy students exceeds the supply of help that is available to them,” stated Professor Tommy Koh, Rector of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore (NUS), University Town. He was talking at the NUS Greater Good Series event titled “Scholarships and Bursaries: A Personal Story.”
Although he comes from a comfortable middle class family, Prof Koh shared it would have been financially difficult for his parents to send him to Harvard Law School in the 1960s. However, a Scholarship from Harvard and a Fulbright Scholarship allowed Prof Koh to take up the offer to study Law at the prestigious University.
In 1964, upon the completion of his studies at Harvard, Prof Koh received an Asian Foundation grant which allowed him to intern at the United Nations (UN) and live in the expensive city of New York. When Singapore unexpectedly achieved independence, Prof Koh’s internship meant he was chosen as an ambassador at the UN. The year was 1968 and Prof Koh was 30 years old.
Prof Koh’s scholarships and grants not only opened many doors for him but they have also inspired him to help others, particularly needy students from humble families, to have access to an education.
Prof Koh shared that many students at NUS cannot afford to stay in the residential colleges. Both Professor Koh and Professor Clancey, Master of Tembusu College, have raised funds to allow an additional 50 students enrolled in the College to stay on campus.
Prof Koh is also active in fundraising for financially challenged students outside NUS, including primary and secondary school children and students studying at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, LASALLE and Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC).
Prof Koh closed his talk by urging others to follow his lead. “There is no better time than now to help. Education is the best vehicle to empower the needy and to level the playing field between the needy and the privileged. Also, the tax benefits that Singapore gives for donations made are a great incentive. For the achievers and successful in life, one has an obligation to give back to others,” he urged.
The NUS Greater Good Series features talks by leading minds on topics related to philanthropy. These include generosity, giving and service to the community, as well as leadership, personal well-being and mental resilience. The Series aims to raise awareness of philanthropy and its impact on society. The Series was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Newsman Realty Pte Ltd.
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