Overview & History

The NUS psychology programme was first introduced during the 1986-87 academic year and is the oldest psychology programme in Singapore.


NUS offers a full undergraduate programme, including an honours course, as well as Masters and Ph.D. programmes. Since its inception, the psychology programme has attracted a strong response from students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Psychology contributes to society by providing behavioural scientists who are equipped with the skills to use empirical research methods to seek an account of human behaviour and experience. It has been only a little over a hundred years that psychology has been a discipline in its own right.

In addition to being a scientific discipline, psychology has a professional and vocational role. For instance, psychologists are involved in the assessment of mental disability and mental illness, and subsequently contribute to treatment, rehabilitation and training of individuals with these conditions. Psychologists are also involved in such diverse areas as counselling, occupational guidance, and the development of health education and other public campaigns. As such, the Department of Psychology has established and maintains links with the Singapore Psychological Society and various institutions that provide psychological services, such as the Ministries of Defence; Culture, Community and Youth; Social and Family Development; Education; and Health, and government hospitals.

For more information on the history and evolution of the department, please see the article "Psychology in Singapore" by George Bishop, which appeared in the May 2008 issue of the APS Observer.

A Very Brief History of Psychology in NUS

The Department of Psychology in NUS started life in 1986 as a degree programme in the Department of Social Work. This was the first degree programme in psychology to be offered by any institution in Singapore, and had an initial intake of 70 students taught by at first one and then two staff members. In 1988, the Department became a Department of Social Work and Psychology, and continued to host the separate degree programmes, each with their own student intake, while dedicated staff numbers had risen to six. In 1989, 52 general degree holders with psychology major graduated, and in 1990, a first batch of 12 psychology honours graduates followed.

In 2005, a fully distinct and autonomous Department of Psychology was formed. Today, nearly 1,000 students take an introductory psychology module every year, and many of them go on to declare a psychology major. In a department with a complement of 44 full-time and 11 adjunct staff, all major areas of psychology are taught and researched. From the inception of the programme, it was intended that the programme should be academically eclectic and produce graduates who are academically the equal in coverage and standards of any from overseas institutions.

As the programme developed, postgraduate research students joined the department, the first Masters student being enrolled in 1990 and the first Ph.D. in 1993. Between 2002 and 2007, an applied (non-clinical) psychology Masters degree was offered, but in 2008 this was discontinued after graduating 26 students, and the department launched a postgraduate Masters programme in Clinical Psychology (M.Clin.Psy). To date, 55 clinically qualified graduates have emerged.


A Chronology of Psychology in Singapore

This chronology includes the early development of public service psychology in Singapore.

Sir Stamford Raffles lays a foundation stone for an institution to provide education and instruction and also undertake research. His intention was to include natural philosophy in the syllabus. However, his institution did not materialise until 1905 when a medical college was founded. Had it succeeded earlier, psychology might have emerged earlier in Singapore in consequence of the proposed element of philosophy.

Foundation of the Straits Settlements & Federated Malay States Government Medical School.

A new mental hospital is established in Yio Chu Kang.

Singapore Psychological Association (SPA) is founded, with Mr Stuart as President & Dr Frankel as Vice-President.

The University of Malaya is established with Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald as Chancellor and Dr G.V. Allen as Vice-Chancellor. The King Edward VII College of Medicine becomes the Faculty of Medicine and Raffles College becomes the Faculties of Arts and Science.

Psychology is taught as part of the curriculum for Social Work, which offers a new two-year Social Studies Diploma.

The University of Malaya founds the Department of Philosophy. Philosophy staff later include Frank Cioffi, a critic of Freudian psychoanalysis, and C.C. Leong, pioneer in the establishment of psychology in the armed forces.

Nanyang University is founded as the first Chinese language university in Singapore.

VW Wilson is appointed to build a Psychological service. Wong Man Kee serves as pupil psychologist at WBH.

Singapore gains full internal self-government. M.K. Wong gains his Dip.Clin.Psych. and succeeds Wilson at WBH.

University of Singapore is formed from University of Malaya.

Singapore becomes a fully independent republic. The University of Singapore establishes a Department of Sociology, but decides not to establish a Psychology department or degree studies.

Educational Psychologist Yip Wing Kee heads the Singapore Armed Forces Education Department after developing a Ministry of Education Guidance unit.

The inception of National Service in Singapore. The Public Service Commission sets policy to expand the numbers of psychologists. Mr F.Y. Long, clinical psychologist, is appointed to assist M.K. Wong at WBH.

CC Leong heads MINDEF Personnel Research & Education Department.

Ministry of Home Affairs appoints Loh Y.P. as psychologist in Prisons, RTC and DRC, and appoints an Australian psychologist to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Nanyang University proposes Psychology and Sociology programmes.

CC Leong publishes Youth in the Army, with a favourable foreword by then Minister of Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee.

Singapore Psychological Society founded, with F.Y. Long as first President.

National University of Singapore (NUS) is formed by a merger of Nanyang University and the University of Singapore. The Nanyang psychology programme is abandoned, and its books transferred to the NUS library. Singapore Psychiatric Association founded, Dr Chee Kuan Tzee as first President.

MOE sets up an Educational Psychology Unit.

First Psychology degree course starts in the NUS Social Work Department with G Harrison (72 students). Head of Department is Mrs Ann Wee.

The Department of Social Work is renamed Social Work & Psychology. Dr S Vasoo, MP, becomes Head. Prof H.J. Eysenck visits Singapore, meets then PM Lee Kuan Yew and discusses psychology manpower needs for Singapore.

First cohort of 52 BA psychology majors graduate in NUS.

First Psychology Honours graduates (n = 11). Full-time graduate staff comprise Vera Bernard-Opitz, Anthony Chang, Chang Weining Chu, Chua Fook Kee, John Elliott, Loke Wing Hong, Susan J Rickard-Liow, Elizabeth Marx and Ramadhar Singh. First Masters candidate by research registered.

Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) hosts the UK Open University psychology honours degree, with J. Elliott as initial academic adviser. SIM set up this and other degree programmes to facilitate education for adults in the working population. The degrees were later awarded locally by SIM and after 2012 by SIM University.

Ngiam Tee Liang becomes Head of Social Work and Psychology.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) moves to a new downtown campus, having been formed at the Cluny Road campus of the Former University of Singapore in 2000.

Chua Fook Kee becomes Head of Social Work and Psychology at NUS.

Visiting Psychology Committee hears representations from staff, and suggests separation of Psychology from Social Work. NTU founds its School of Humanities and Social Sciences, which includes psychology.

Social Work and Psychology become separate departments. The nine full-time staff of the new Department of Psychology comprise George Bishop (Head), Chua Fook Kee, Winston Goh, Steve Graham, Nicholas Hon, Susan Rickard-Liow, Sim Tick Ngee, Ramadhar Singh and Vicky Tan.

The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) replaces WBH at nearby Buangkok Green.

Psychology major offered at SMU.

First enrollments in Master’s degree programmes in Clinical Psychology, one a joint degree with the University of Melbourne, the other a single degree from NUS.

Sim Tick Ngee becomes Head of Department at NUS.

NUS Concurrent Masters degree in psychology initiated, comprising a B.Soc.Sci. and M.Soc.Sci. over a five-year programme of study.

Full-time psychology staff now number 45 at the start of the year, with recruitment in progress.

Winston Goh becomes Head of Department at NUS.