Higher Education In Singapore



Singapore is a cosmopolitan country with a population of 5.66 million comprising the following major ethnic groups: the Chinese (74.3%), Malays (13.3%), Indians (9.1%), and Eurasians and smaller minority groups (3.3%). Each of these communities honours its unique traditions, religions and cultural festivals. Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the major religions.

Living conditions in Singapore are amongst the best in Asia, with state-of-the-art facilities for education, shopping, sports and recreation. The inflation rate is comparatively lower than most other countries.


Singapore lies close to the Equator and is warm and humid for most of the year. There is no distinct wet or dry season. The rain fall is heaviest in April and December during the monsoon season. February and July are the drier months. Daily temperatures range between 23 degree C and 34 degree C.


Singapore is widely recognised as possessing one of Asia’s highest standards of environmental health. The air quality is within the World Health Organization’s acceptable limits. It is also safe to drink water straight from the tap.

Safety & Security

Singapore ranks high in terms of safety. Known for its toughness on crime, it has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Public Transportation 

Getting around the city and the suburbs is easy with Singapore’s extensive and reliable public transport system.

The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) operates a network of trains, which serves 121 stations, covering business, shopping and residential areas. Trains run from 5.30 a.m to 12.30 a.m, every three to eight minutes.

Public buses run daily from 5.30 a.m. to midnight. Night buses are also available to cater for those who have to travel after midnight when normal service stops. There are over 28,000 taxis plying the streets round the clock.


Ever since Singapore won its independence in 1965, its government has made national education a top priority. More than 20% of the government’s expenditure goes to education.

All Singapore students receive a bilingual education in English and their mother tongue. English is the language of instruction in schools and educational institutions as well as the language of administration, commerce, and technology.

The Singapore school system consists of six years of primary education; four to five years of secondary education and three to five years of tertiary education.

Primary Education

At the primary level, students go through a compulsory six-year course designed to develop language and numeracy skills, building character and nurturing sound values and good habits. Core subjects include English Language, Mathematics and Mother Tongue Language. Science is introduced from Primary 3 onwards.

After the initial foundation stage (Primary 1 to Primary 4), students can take English Language, Mathematics, Mother Tongue Language and Science at either the foundation or standard level at Primary 5 and Primary 6, allowing them to learn at a pace that best suits them.

At the end of Primary 6, pupils sit for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) which assesses their abilities for placement in a secondary school course that suits their learning pace, ability and inclinations.

Secondary Education

At the secondary level, three core courses are offered to match students’ learning abilities and interests.

Express Course

This is a four-year course leading to the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (GCE) O-Level exam. Students learn English and Mother Tongue Languages, as well as Mathematics, the Sciences and the Humanities.

Normal (Academic) (N(A)) Course

This is a four-year course leading to the GCE N(A)-Level exam. Students learn subjects similar to those in the Express course. Those who do well at the N(A)-Level will qualify for an additional year to prepare for the O-Level exam, or progress to Higher Nitec courses at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Selected students may sit for the O Level exam in some subjects at Secondary 4, or bypass the N(A)-Level exam and progress directly to Secondary 5 to take the O-Level exam.

Since 2013, students who do well at the N(A)-Level have two “through-train” pathways to the polytechnics – (i) a one-year Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) and (ii) a two-year Direct-Entry-Scheme to Polytechnic Programme (DPP).

Normal (Technical) (N(T)) Course

This is a four-year course leading to the GCE N(T)-Level exam. Students learn English and Mother Tongue Languages, Mathematics and subjects with technical or practical emphases, with Elective Modules, which cover a wide range of subjects including nursing, hospitality, digital animation and precision engineering.

There are opportunities for lateral transfers mid-stream. Students performing well in the N(A) and N(T) courses may also take more academically-challenging subjects at upper secondary levels.

In addition, the diverse secondary school landscape in Singapore offers a range of schools to suit the unique needs of every child: Specialised Schools which offer customized programmes for students who are inclined towards hands-on and practical Learning; Specialised Independent Schools which develop students in areas such as mathematics, the sciences, the arts and sports at a higher level; Integrated Programme  which offer a six-year programme for academically-strong students who prefer a more independent and less structured learning style. Students in this programme proceed to pre-university education without sitting for the O-Level examination.

Pre-university Education

After Secondary 4 or Secondary 5, students can proceed to junior colleges (2-year course) or centralised institutes (3-year course) for pre-university education. Students can also proceed to polytechnics or Institute of Technical Education. At the end of the pre-university course, students sit for the Singapore Cambridge GCE A-Level Examination.

Tertiary Education

Presently, there are 6 publicly-funded universities, 5 polytechnics, 3 institutes of technical education and one national institute of education in Singapore.

Tertiary education at the universities generally lasts 3 years for a general degree and 4 years for an honours degree. Technical education is offered by polytechnics which run diploma, advance diploma and postgraduate diploma courses and the Institute of Technical Education which runs a wide range of industry-based certificate courses. In addition, the private institutions offer a wide range of tertiary level courses leading to diplomas, degrees and post-graduate or professional qualifications.


National University of Singapore (NUS) is a research-intensive university with 16 faculties and schools, including a music conservatory. For undergraduates, the University Scholars Programme offers an inter-disciplinary academic experience, while the Yale-NUS College offers a four-year liberal arts programme.  In the 2015-16 QS World University Ranking, NUS was ranked 12th globally.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is a research-intensive university, with engineering as a key strength. It has four colleges offering undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in various areas on top of engineering, and five autonomous entities – the Chinese Heritage Centre, Earth Observatory of Singapore, National Institute of Education, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering. In addition, NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine was established in collaboration with Imperial College London. In the 2015-16 QS World University Ranking, NTU was ranked 13th globally and 1st globally among the young universities.

A third University, the Singapore Management University (SMU), opened its doors to students in August 2000. The SMU is a government-funded privately managed university offering a broad-based business curriculum modeled after the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD), established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University, is a small, top-tier research-intensive university focusing on design education in engineering and architecture and seeks to leverage on its partner universities’ strong tradition of engineering excellence and entrepreneurial spirit.

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) offers degree programmes in partnership with reputable overseas universities in sectors such as engineering & applied sciences, health sciences, design, interactive digital media, education and hospitality. It has a unique tripartite partnership model with overseas university partners and the five local polytechnics in offering polytechnic graduates degree upgrading opportunities.

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) is the sixth and newest university of Singapore. Its predecessor is UniSIM, focussing on social sciences with a mission to provide lifelong learning. It provides a flexible university education for working professionals and adult learners.


Polytechnics were set up with the mission to train middle-level professionals to support the technological and economic development of Singapore. Reflecting the wide range of abilities, aptitudes and interests of their students, the polytechnics seek to train students with relevant and specific skills for the workplace to give Singapore a competitive edge as it moves into a knowledge-based economy. Today, polytechnic graduates are valued as practice-oriented and knowledgeable middle-level professionals, much sought after by industries. Polytechnics are also significant providers of continuing education and post employment professional development programmes and services.

Polytechnic graduates who wish to further their studies may be considered for admission to the universities based on their diploma qualifications.

Institute of Technical Education (ITE)

Institute of Technical Education (ITE) was established on 1 April 1992 to produce graduates with technical knowledge and skills that are relevant to industry. ITE is the national authority for the setting of skills standards and the certification of skills in Singapore.

Students with O- or N-Level certificates can opt for full-time courses at ITE leading to the National ITE Certificate (Nitec) or the Higher National ITE Certificate (Higher Nitec). Students can also acquire skills certification through traineeship programmes conducted jointly by companies and ITE. In addition, ITE offers Technical Engineer Diploma (TED) programmes in niche areas as another pathway for skills upgrading, in collaboration with overseas institutions.

Currently, ITE is not open for admission to Malaysian students.

Arts Institutions

LASALLE College of the Arts or the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) offer a range of publicly-funded degree and diploma programmes in the visual and performing arts, such as music, theatre, dance, interior design and fashion design.

Foreign Education System/International Schools

There are foreign schools which cater to the educational needs of children of expatriates working in Singapore.  These schools, e.g. German School, Hollandse School, Japanese School, Lycee Francaise, etc., follow closely the national curriculum of their respective country.  In addition to these, there are also foreign education system/international schools which enrol not only children of expatriates but also other foreign students.  Examples are the schools which function on the American, Australian, British, or Canadian system of education using English as the medium of instruction. The levels of education available vary from school to school and certain schools offer pre-school/kindergarten through high school education. Special education is also available at certain foreign system schools, such as Dover Court Preparatory School.

There are also supplementary schools set up and operated by the Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese and Swedish communities. These schools usually run on weekends and they offer courses covering language and culture of the respective community. Generally, students of supplementary schools study ‘full-time’ in international schools.


The general entry requirement to Singapore universities is GCE ‘A’ level, or its equivalent, the STPM in Malaysia or other equivalent qualifications. Entry requirements to polytechnics are GCE ‘O’ level, or its equivalent, the SPM in Malaysia or other equivalent qualifications.

Intake of students may vary in different schools. However, students need to conform to the entry requirements prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Admission requirements & selection criteria are based not only on merit but also factors such as the availability of space in the schools.


Tuition Fees

At the tertiary level, the government of Singapore offers a tuition grant subsidy to all foreign students. Foreign students who accept tuition grant subsidy are required to work in Singapore for 3 years upon graduation for any employer of the student’s choice. They are also required to provide two sureties who must be Singaporeans above 21 and below 65 years of age and must not be bankrupt. The surety shall be responsible for ensuring that the student completes his 3-year bond. If the student fails to serve out the bond without the Ministry of Education’s permission, the sureties will have to pay the Liquidated Damages (LD) incurred by their charge.

However, foreign students can forgo the bond if they pay the full cost of their tuition fees. The following is the tuition fee structure for NUS and NTU and polytechnics in Singapore.

S’pore Citizens PR Foreigners   Full Tuition
Medicine S$26,400-33,200 S$36,950-46,500 S$55,450-70,500 S$141,100
Other courses S$8,050-17,500 S$11,250-24,500 S$17,100-37,350 S$29,350-104,750
Polytechnics S$2,600 S$5,200 S$9,050


Living Expenses

On-campus accommodation ranges from S$250-650 per person per month. For off-campus accommodation, the rate for room rental ranges from S$500 per person or S$350 for twin sharing in public housing to S$1,800-3,000 for an apartment. Average monthly living expenses (including food, transport and entertainment costs) are estimated to be between S$800 and S$1,000.


Invitation to apply for admission into Singapore universities and polytechnics are announced in the Malaysian newspapers from the end of January to early March every year. Students can apply directly to the chosen education institutions

If it is a private school, it must be registered with the Ministry of Education (ask to see its certificate of registration as a school if this is not already prominently displayed); and has gained approval to offer the course (ask to see course approval letter issued by the Ministry of Education)


All foreigners, other than Immigration Exemption Order holders, are required to apply for a Student’s Pass at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) if he/she wishes to pursue full-time studies in an Institute of Higher Learning.

To apply for a Student’s Pass, a foreign student must first be accepted and offered a place as a full-time matriculated or registered student in the following Institutes of Higher Learning in Singapore:


  • National University of Singapore
  • Nanyang Technological University
  • Singapore Management University
  • Singapore Institute of Technology
  • Singapore University of Technology and Design


  • Nanyang Polytechnic
  • Ngee Ann Polytechnic
  • Republic Polytechnic
  • Singapore Polytechnic
  • Temasek Polytechnic

Offshore Institutes with Local Campuses

  • Ecole Superieure Des Sciences Economiques Et Commerciales (ESSEC)
  • Insead (Singapore)
  • NYU Tisch School of the Arts
  • S P Jain School of Global Management Pte Ltd
  • The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Singapore)
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Singapore
  • DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore
  • German Institute of Science and Technology – TUM Asia
  • Sorbonne Assas International Law School

Applications must be submitted through the Student’s Pass On-Line Application & Registration (SOLAR) system (https://solar.ica.gov.sg/)

New applications for a Student’s Pass must be submitted at least one month and not more than 2 months before the commencement of the course.


A foreign student can work during the school term without a work pass if he/she meets all of the following criteria:

  • A full-time matriculated or registered student in one of the approved institutions.
  • Holding a Student Pass issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Additionally, the student’s work needs to meet one of these requirements:

  • It is for a maximum of 16 hours a week.
  • It is under an industrial attachment programme conducted by the university or educational institution. The industrial attachment can be either compulsory or elective but it must contribute towards the graduation requirements.

A foreign student can also work during the vacation without a work pass if he/she is:

  • A full-time matriculated or registered student in one of the approved institutions.
  • Holding a Student Pass issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
  • Aged 14 years and above.

Students studying in institutions other than those specified above are not allowed to work part-time during term-time or full-time during vacation in Singapore.


Written by: Ms Wee Hui Bieh AFMSA, July 2016

Information Source:
Ministry of Education, Singapore
Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Singapore
Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, and Official Websites of Singapore Tertiary Education Institutions

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