The University of Newcastle, Australia

International friendships at a time when they matter most

A group of Singaporean alumni who spent their formative years at the University of Newcastle back in the 1960s and 1970s have been providing a boost to nearly 50 deserving students who are following in their footsteps. These generous alumni have been supporting high performing students facing educational disadvantage through a range of scholarships, and their numbers continue to grow.

The scholarships they have established include the Singapore Alumni Scholarship, and a number of Singapore Alumni (follow on) Scholarships, which support deserving students for a second year to help them continue to overcome hardships and stay on track as they work towards their graduation goal.

What started as a simple idea for a few friends to give back to the city where they laid the foundation for successful careers has become a significant collective of philanthropists, donating over A$600,000 to the Singapore Alumni Excellence Fund to support 47 Australian students (so far) who are starting out in their own professional lives five decades later.

The group is led by Dr Peter Tay Buan Huat (Honorary Degree - Doctor of Engineering 2015; Bachelor of Arts (Economics) 1973; Bachelor of Engineering (Industrial) 1972) who, with his wife Catherine, is a long term philanthropic supporter of the University of Newcastle. Not only are the Singapore Alumni Scholarships supporting individual students to excel, they have a broader purpose, as Peter explained, “As a group, we are connected by our great pride in the achievements of Singapore and our fondness for our time at the University of Newcastle. We hope that these scholarships will further strengthen the relationship between Singapore and Australia.”

This group of ‘super alumni’ continues to grow with two new scholarships being recently established to support high performing students facing barriers to their education. With the support and guidance of Peter and TAO Yeoh Chi (Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) 1976; Bachelor of Arts 1975), TAN Poh Kiam (Bachelor of Mathematics 1979) has established the CHIN Swui Sen for Singapore Alumni Scholarship in STEM or Business Studies and the CHIN Swui Sen for Singapore Alumni (follow on) Scholarship in STEM or Business Studies in memory of her late husband, one of the University’s first MBA graduates, CHIN Swui Sen (Master of Business Administration 1980; Bachelor of Engineering 1974). The couple studied at the University of Newcastle, migrating to Australia after graduation and lived in Sydney for over 40 years. It was Swui Sen’s wish to help the next generation of students achieve a bright future.

This year in particular, the group is supporting students facing exceptional financial and emotional stress as they work to complete their studies. As one of the scholars supported by the Singapore Alumni Scholarship, Jasmine, a Bachelor of Medical Radiation Sciences (Honours) student wrote to the donors who supported her, “With the world’s current extenuating circumstances and health climate, the work you do matters more now than ever for people like myself who have lost work and a sense of normality and stability.”

Jasmine has always been a high performing student and she has been excelling in her degree despite also working to support herself financially and coping with the stress of family illness back home on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. The Singapore Alumni Scholarship will support her with costs such as rent and living expenses. “It will take the pressure off my shoulders and allow me to focus on doing my best and thriving in my studies,” she said. “I will be able to travel further for placement, gaining knowledge from some of the world’s best oncology departments without worrying about my financial situation.”

The 45 alumni in this generous group of donors studied at the University of Newcastle in the late 1960s and 1970s, many of them through the Colombo Plan Scholarship scheme. They cherished this chance to study overseas in Newcastle and describe it as a transformative experience that lay the foundations for their future successes. KHAW Boon Wan (Honorary Degree - Doctor Of Engineering 2002; Bachelor Of Commerce 1978; Bachelor Of Engineering 1978), former Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport in Singapore, described the Colombo Plan Scholarship as ‘A gift which changed my life’, giving him the opportunity to ‘learn about Australia, engineering and especially ourselves’. It was this appreciation of the power of scholarships which prompted the group to take their shared passion for Newcastle and fond memories of late night study groups at Edwards Hall to the next level and provide the same life-changing support for other students.

The University is very grateful to the supporters of the Singapore Alumni Excellence Fund, as proud alumni and passionate supporters of the University of Newcastle for so many years.