Education in Singapore

By Nick Clark, Editor, World Education News & Reviews

Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819 and became an independent nation in 1965 after attaining self-government from Britain in 1959 and spending two years as part of the Malaysian Federation. Since independence, the city-state has become a regional economic powerhouse with strong international links, which it is now leveraging in a bid to position itself as a knowledge-based economy and a regional hub for educational excellence.

The national economy has transitioned from an original reliance on labor-intensive export industries at independence to capital- and skill-intensive industries through the 1970s, and knowledge-intensive industries, with a focus on research and development, engineering design and computer software services, through the 1980s and 1990s.

To build a knowledge- and capital-intensive economy with a highly educated and flexible workforce, the government, under the direction of the Economic Development Board, developed a polytechnic sector and established institutions of technology in collaboration with foreign governments. The Japan-Singapore Institute (JSI), German-Singapore Institute (GSI) and the French-Singapore Institute trained Singaporeans for specialized jobs in electronics and engineering. The JSI was established to advance information technology training, the GSI to train technologists for the manufacturing industry and the FSI to train technicians in the electronics industry.

In 1993, the three institutes were merged to form part of the School of Engineering of the (then) recently established Nanyang Polytechnic (1992). The polytechnic sector has been instrumental in transforming the Singaporean economy with a role of producing trained manpower to support the growth of new industries. Polytechnics have been highly successful in this mission by working closely with industry and government to react in a timely and nimble manner to national manpower and industry-development needs before and as they arise.

Today, the government is focused on further transforming the state to become a ‘Global Schoolhouse,’ building on a period through the 1990s where Singapore began to focus on globalizing its economy by encouraging local companies and Singapore-based multinationals to participate in the region’s growth by distributing resource-dependent operations to resource-rich countries with the establishment of industrial parks in China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

These policy efforts were strengthened following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, after which Singapore redirected significant resources toward transforming itself into an education and medical services hub.

Based on international schooling benchmark standards, the Singapore education system is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. However, criticism has been leveled against the education system by outside observers for producing students that perform well on tests (after extensive tutoring and cramming), but lack critical thinking and innovation skills. The Ministry of Education has taken these criticisms seriously and has recently reformed school curricula and syllabi to place greater emphasis on communication and thinking skills, in addition to core subject competencies.

The Global Schoolhouse

Singapore’s ‘Global Schoolhouse’ initiative was launched in 2002. Through the initiative, Singapore seeks to attract 150,000 international students, in addition to international faculty, to the city-state by 2015 in a bid to establish itself as a regional hub for tertiary studies and cutting-edge research. A few years prior, the government set a target of attracting 10 world-class foreign institutions within 10 years. Together, the two initiatives would help the state reform and remodel all levels of its education system to better align with the needs of the economy and replace what the island lacks in natural resources with human capital. The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the driving force behind the globalization initiatives, and the Singapore Tourism Board is responsible for marketing and recruitment.

The strategy builds on Singapore’s earlier, and highly successful, drive to industrialize, a process that happened with the aid of foreign companies that enjoyed state-of-the-art facilities and preferential tax treatment and grants. World-class universities operating on the island are expected to collaborate with Singapore’s universities and research institutes in creating “a self-sustaining research eco-system.” The government budgeted US$8 billion over five years (2006-2010) for research and development, and a US$600 million Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is well underway.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Research Foundation of Singapore (NRFS) have been working since 2007 to establish the first major new research center in Singapore as part of CREATE. The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center is designed to serve as an intellectual hub for interactions between MIT and global researchers in Singapore, and is the first of several world-class centers planned for CREATE by the NRFS.

The government has had success with both its internationalization targets, exceeding its own forecast of attracting 10 foreign institutions, while growing international enrollments to approximately 80,000 in 2006 (the last year for which statistics could be found and 7,000 more than in 2005) from less than 50,000 in 2002. According to an April 2008 update on the government’s education marketing portal, Singapore Education, there were eight foreign campuses on the island and 12 foreign universities with operations offered in concert with local partners – from the United States (12), India (2), Spain (1), France (1), Holland (1), Germany (1), China (1), and Japan (1). In addition to these major foreign academic presences, foreign programs are offered by way of dual degrees and franchising in partnership with over 140 local private providers. These franchised programs are aimed at local and foreign students looking for an international credential at a fraction the cost of doing so abroad, and with lower entry standards than Singapore’s prestigious public and foreign universities.

These elite foreign providers are largely providing niche programs and are there mainly to attract foreign students and Singapore-based expatriates. Public institutions are required by law to cap international student enrollments at 20 percent of total campus enrollment.

The vast majority of foreign enrollments are from Asia, with much smaller numbers form Australia, Europe and the United States. For international students, the attractions of Singapore as a study destination lie in the ability to earn degrees from prestigious foreign universities at a fraction the cost of doing so in the West. In addition, large expatriate communities provide comfort for international students (especially those from China and Malaysia) in a foreign land, while the prominence of Chinese businesses and proximity to regional economic powerhouses provide a chance to become familiar with those languages and business practices. Furthermore, the city-state is highly developed, offering a plethora of modern conveniences, in addition to a high level of personal safety.

While Singapore is having great success in attracting leading universities to its shores, in addition to foreign students, the internationalization strategies have not all been plane sailing.

Problems with the Global Schoolhouse

There have been a number of high-profile closures of foreign campuses in the last few years, most notably the announcement in 2006 that Australia’s University of New South Wales would close its Singapore campus after just one semester of operations. The campus, when it opened, had a target of enrolling 15,000 students by 2020 with 70 percent from abroad. The university had a disappointing first enrollment season and decided to close the campus rather than hemorrhage dollars with the expectation of further disappointing enrollment seasons ahead.

The Australian closure came hot on the heels of a July 2006 announcement that the biomedical research facility of Johns Hopkins University in Singapore, which was established in 1998, would close within a year. The government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) withdrew funding after the research center failed to meet targets for attracting leading researchers, PhD enrollments, and producing patents as agreed in the original contract. Johns Hopkins still maintains a presence in Singapore through the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre, a 30-bed licensed medical oncology facility, operated as a joint venture between the National Healthcare Group and Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

In addition to these failures, there are issues related to the rapid pace of change to the education system. As Ravinder Sidhu points out in a recent article in International Higher Education, “Leap-frogging into a research-intensive culture is an ambitious goal given differences in institutional histories, mandates, and research experience. Singapore’s universities are young and have largely been steered to focus their energies on producing high-quality undergraduate programs. Thus these universities face challenges to establish research synergies with globally positioned institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that operate with minimal government steering. Singaporean faculty are cajoled to benchmark themselves against a real and imagined standard of global excellence, meet goals of access and quality, while facing constraints from an institutional environment closely steered by government.”

In the same publication, Cribble and McBunie raise other concerns related to Singapore’s ambitions, stating that, “Singapore needs to resolve several important issues to achieve its goal of becoming a global education hub. One factor is that the government and foreign providers need to set realistic targets. Historically, institutions—and governments—have a tendency to overestimate future enrollments and underestimate costs. The recent developments with the University of New South Wales and Johns Hopkins both appear to be cases in point. One lesson from the experience seems to be that one should anticipate a diminution in the “pulling power” of institutions once they move outside their home base. The challenge thus involves adjusting targets in a way that suits the parties concerned. As well as directly affecting students, institutional closures can erode public confidence in the reliability of transnational education, the foreign provider, and the host country.”

The authors also talk to issues related to the regulation of foreign providers, which had largely been overlooked by the government until international students began “reporting poor-quality courses or the loss of course fees from fraudulent operators [that] potentially may damage Singapore’s reputation and undermine its quest for hub status. Currently, the Consumer’s Association of Singapore operates a registration scheme for private education operators, addressing consumer protection issues such as fee policies, means of student redress, and an insurance scheme in case of operator failure. The Product and Innovation Board has established the Singapore Quality Class for Private Education Operators, addressing their governance and business structures. Neither addresses the question of academic standards.”

In recognition of these concerns, the Ministry of Education is developing a system to better regulate the private sector under the Council for Private Education (CPE). According to a March 2009 news release from the Ministry of Education, a pro-term CPE has been established to oversee the creation of a new regulatory framework that would require mandatory registration to ensure that private schools meet certain standards in terms of financial stability, student welfare, and academic rigor. In addition, a voluntary accreditation system to recognize high-quality private providers (EduTrust) is said to be in the works, a system that would offer students greater guidance in the selection of an institution while increasing pressure on lower-end providers to improve or fold.

The parliamentary Private Education Bill that would formalize the process is yet to pass through parliament, but is slated to do so soon.

The Public Education System

Education is compulsory for Singaporean children aged six to 15 years of age. Most children in Singapore go to kindergarten from the age of three for two to three years (K1, K2, K3) until they are six and old enough for primary school, which lasts a total of six years (Primary 1 through Primary 6). Children take the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE) at the end of primary school, and results on this examination determine if the student will progress to secondary schools in the Special/Express stream (Secondary 1 through Secondary 4) or in the Normal stream (Secondary 1 through Secondary 5).

Students take GCE ‘O’ or ‘N’ Level examinations at the end of Secondary 4 or 5 and then move onto a junior college (2 years), a polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education (3 or 4 years), or a pre-university center (3 years), resulting in a schooling of 12 to 14 years depending on the path taken. Approximately two-thirds of all students complete their education in 12 years. At the end of the secondary cycle, students on an academic track (junior college or pre-university) take GCE ‘A’ Level examinations.

In the university sector there are currently four universities, one of which is private – Singapore Institute of Management University – and a number of foreign branch campuses (see above). According to recent government announcements, up to three new public institutions of higher education are being planned.

Universities are funded largely from government grants. Tuition fees are also charged, however, all domestic students are given grants from the government to offset these fees. Students make up the difference if there is one. All three state universities were granted the autonomy to raise funds through other sources in 2006 by the Ministry of Education.

Students with strengths in particular fields or streams today have much greater choice and flexibility in the educational paths that they can follow than previously with recent curricula reforms and the introduction of new types of schools, designed specifically to encourage students with special talents to follow paths that will be relevant to the national economy. Schools and tertiary institutions have been given more autonomy and resources to develop their own distinct strengths and specific areas of excellence and expertise.

Private Sector

While Singapore has a world-renowned public education system, it also has a flourishing private education sector, both at the secondary and tertiary levels. At the secondary level, many children receive supplementary schooling by way of private tutors and tuition schools, as is common in neighboring countries such as Japan and China. Children of the large expatriate community will often attend international schools, which follow an international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate or that of the home country.

At the tertiary level, many vocationally oriented schools offer supplementary classes in fields such as business studies and information technology. Most of these schools are established as private businesses, or run by professional associations such as the Marketing Institute of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Management.

There are a host of programs offered in concert with foreign providers – through twinning, double degrees or franchising – and the private sector offers the lion’s share of such programs. Private schools must be registered with the Ministry of Education.

Language of Instruction

From pre-school to university, all classes are taught in English. Students in the school system also learn a native language based on their ethnic background (Mandarin, Malay or Tamil).

Academic year

The academic year for primary and secondary schools and junior colleges begins in the first week of January and is divided into two semesters, January to May and June to November. Each semester consists of two terms of 10 weeks each. The academic year for polytechnics and universities is divided into two semesters. It starts in August each year and ends the following May. Each semester is 17 weeks long, and there is a three-month vacation period between May and August each year.

Primary Schooling

At the primary level, there are three types of school: Public schools; government-aided schools – privately established and managed by committees of individuals (but heavily subsidized by the government); and special assistance plan (SAP) schools (promoting the learning of Chinese language and culture).

Primary school is compulsory for all children and is six years in duration: four-year foundation stage and a two-year orientation stage. In the final two years of primary school, a certain degree of talent-based streaming occurs, allowing students to pursue subjects for which they have shown particular aptitude at a higher level than the standard level. At the end of the Primary 6, all students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Students are tested in English, mother tongue languages, mathematics and science.

Students move onto secondary schooling after taking the PSLE either through the discretionary admission to secondary schools pathway, or the post-PSLE central posting process.

Under the discretionary scheme (in effect from 2005), independent and autonomous schools may enroll a certain percentage of students before the central posting process is carried out, through which students indicate their choice of secondary school after the release of the PSLE results.

The curriculum is three pronged, with Life Skills focusing on co-curricular activities, civics and moral education, pastoral care and career guidance, national education (civics), physical education and health education; Knowledge Skills focusing on project work designed to develop thinking, process and communication skills; and Content-based Subject Disciplines such as languages, humanities and arts, and mathematics and sciences.

Secondary Schooling

Schools at the secondary level fall into four categories: public and SAP (see primary); three specialized independent schools (Singapore Sports School, NUS High School and the School of the Arts); private schools; and autonomous schools, which do not have as much freedom from supervision as independent schools, but are provided with additional funds so that they may offer additional programs, to some extent at their own discretion.

Students who are less academically inclined (those who failed the PSLE more than once) can go to the NorthLight School (NLS), which offers an enhanced vocational program.

Curriculum

The Ministry of Education mandates that schools focus on three broad learning themes and outcomes: Life Skills (non-academic content focused on developing the individual with regards to values as responsible citizens); Knowledge Skills (thinking processes and communication skills that allow students to analyze and use information and be able to express thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively); Content-based Disciplines (core learning curriculum subjects).

In mainstream public schools, students are streamed according to ability based on their performance in the PLSE (see primary school). The streams are referred to as: Special, Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).

Special and Express Curriculum

Students in the Special and Express streams follow a four-year curriculum designed to get them ready for the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level) examinations. The curriculum focuses on six to eight subjects, all of which are tested at the end of four years. Students with proven academic ability may take up to 10 subjects.

Students typically take two languages (English and mother tongue) with the option of taking a third; combined humanities and another humanities subject (chosen from literature in English, literature in mother tongue, history and geography); mathematics; and at least one science subject.

In the Special stream, students take higher mother tongue (Chinese, Malay or Tamil), whereas students in the Express stream take the lower mother tongue. A pass in the higher mother tongue O-Level fulfills the mother tongue requirement; those in the express stream have to take an extra year of study in their mother tongue and take the AS-Level mother tongue examinations. A foreign language – French, German, or Japanese – can be taken in addition to, or in lieu of, the mother tongue.

Normal Curriculum

Students in the Normal stream follow either an academic program or a technical program: N (A) or N (T). The four-year program culminates with students taking the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Normal Level (GCE N-Level) examinations, with the possibility of a fifth year followed by O-Levels.

Students choose from a wide range of program combinations at the end of their second year, and must take a minimum of five N-Level subjects and a maximum of eight. English, mother tongue, mathematics, one science and one humanities elective are compulsory.

Academic

Students study six to eight subjects in preparation for GCE N-Level examinations at the end of Secondary 4. Students who perform well in the GCE N-Level examination can go on to a fifth year (Secondary 5N), after which they can take the GCE O-Level examinations. Based on their GCE O-Level results, secondary 5N students can continue at junior colleges, polytechnics or technical institutes.

Compulsory subjects are English, mother tongue and mathematics. For upper secondary, combined humanities and a science subject are also compulsory.

Technical

Students follow a practically oriented curriculum in five to seven subjects. At the end of Secondary 4 students take GCE N-Level examinations in their subject areas. Students completing the GCE N-Level examinations can apply for technical/vocational programs at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). The curriculum is geared towards strengthening students’ proficiency in English and mathematics. Students take English, mathematics, basic mother tongue and computer applications as compulsory subjects.

Other Secondary Avenues

Integrated Programs

Introduced in 2004, integrated programs are offered at 12 schools (as of 2008) to students in the top 10 percent of their year group who have been identified as university-bound. Students following this program proceed to the pre-university level without taking GCE O-Level examinations. Programs are offered at secondary schools, junior colleges and the National University of Singapore High School for Mathematics and Science. Some of these schools also offer alternative programs such as the International Baccalaureate.

Specialized Schools

These three schools have been created in recent years as a means of diversifying secondary schooling and offering students who are talented in particular fields the outlet to pursue those talents.

The National University of Singapore High School for Mathematics and Science, established by the National University of Singapore, offers a six-year curriculum based on a modular system, which allows students to pursue areas of particular interest to a deeper level than under the standard school curriculum. It is offered on a 2+2+2 structure with foundation, advancement and specialization phases. Students graduate with the NUS High School Diploma. They may also take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and Advanced Placement (AP) examinations, based on the U.S. secondary model, to enable entry to prestigious universities abroad.

Singapore Sports School was established in 2004 and follows a curriculum similar to that offered by Normal Academic schools. As the name suggests, there is a particular emphasis on sporting avenues.

The School of the Arts was established in 2008. The School offers the six-year arts and academic International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma curriculum.

Grading System and Senior-Secondary Streaming

Most secondary schools follow the Singapore-Cambridge GCE O-Level grading system, which is as follows:

  • A1/A2 (Distinction)
  • B3/B4 (Merit)
  • C5/C6 (Credit/Pass)
  • D7 (Sub-Pass/fail, that is, passing at a lower standard in the exam or fail)
  • E8/F9 (Fail)

A student’s overall academic performance is measured a number of different ways depending on the intended post-secondary path the student seeks to follow.

Each subject grade has a point value with grade A1 being 1 point, A2 being 2 points, B3 being 3 points, and so on. The lower the cumulative total across all subject areas, the better.

Entry to junior college for the two-year pre-university program requires that students have an aggregate of 15 points up to a maximum of 20 points for English language and 5 other relevant subjects, including an A1–D7 grade for mother tongue language and mathematics.

Entry to the three-year pre-university program requires that students have an aggregate of 15 points up to a maximum of 20 points for English language and 4 other relevant subjects.

Senior Secondary School

Upon completion of GCE O-Level & N-Level examinations, students choose a post-secondary or pre-university institution based on the Joint Admission Exercise. The choice of institution is based on a student’s academic ability (results in the GCE O-Level & N-Level examinations – see above) and participation in co-curricular activities. Of particular importance is a student’s performance in languages and mathematics.

Polytechnics

Students pursuing a vocational or technical track with the necessary O-Level credentials can apply to study at one of five polytechnics. High-achieving polytechnic graduates can continue onto university. In 2007, approximately 40 percent of secondary-school leavers entered polytechnics.

Institute of Technical Education

Students with GCE O- or N-Level credentials can pursue technically oriented programs at one of 10 campuses of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). High-achieving students can pursue diploma courses at polytechnics, which then offer access to university studies. In 2007, approximately 25 percent of secondary-leavers entered an ITE campus.

Junior Colleges and Millennia Institute (Pre-University Track)

Students seeking to continue on an academic path and who have the required O-Level credentials can apply for admission to pre-university courses at one of 18 two-year junior colleges (JC) or the three-year Millennia Institute, the last of what were four ‘centralized institutes’. Students take GCE A-Level examinations at the end of their studies and graduate with a School Graduation Certificate, which lists academic and non-academic achievements (co-curricular activities) in addition to A-Level achievements. Both academic and non-academic achievements are considered for university admission decisions. In 2007, approximately 25 percent of secondary-school leavers entered JCs or the MI.

The A-Level Curriculum

In 2006, a new A-Level curriculum was introduced. The curriculum is designed to place a greater emphasis on academic and non-academic flexibility and the capacity to learn independently of instructors.

Students study a broader range of disciplines than previously by undertaking project work and studying at least one subject outside their A-Level areas of specialization. Subjects are available to the student at three levels of intensity, so students have more subject combinations and depths to choose from.

An increased amount of classroom time has also been devoted to critical thinking and communication skills, with an equal reduction of classroom time (between 10 and 15 percent) devoted to the study of core academic subjects.

The Three Levels of Study

The new A-Level curriculum allows students to take subjects at three different levels or depths: Level 1 (H1), Level 2 (H2), Level 3 (H3). H1 studies are taken to the same depth as H2 studies, which are considered equivalent to the old A-Level depth and breadth, but offer only half the breadth; H3 studies offer the student the opportunity to study a subject in greater depth with the option to write a research paper that might be considered for advanced placement in a university module.

The H1 level might be considered comparable to the old AO/S level, which in turn was broadly thought to constitute ‘half an A-Level’. Using this method, students can choose to study a broader mix of subjects by taking many H1 classes, or specialize by taking H2 and H3 classes.

Students must also take general paper classes, undertake project work, and study a mother tongue language at the H1 Level.

Students are typically required to study three H2 and one H1 subject. A minimum of one of the student’s subjects must differ from his or her general area of specialization. Therefore, a student taking three subjects from the mathematics & sciences group would have to take one subject from the humanities and the arts group, and vice versa. Talented students can either take an additional subject at the H1 or H2 Levels or take up to two H3 subjects.

Students take examinations in all their chosen subject areas at the end of their two- or three-year course of studies.

Technical/Vocational Track

Technical and vocational secondary schooling is offered at vocational training centers, under the purview of the Institute of Technical Education, to students who have failed the PLSE at least three times. The centers are also open to students that have dropped out of secondary school. The program offers two years of vocational training and aims to prepare students to progress to the National ITE Certificate programs at the Institute of Technical Education (see below), or to ready them for the job market.

Higher Education

Domestic Universities

Singapore has four universities: the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and the recently created Singapore Management University (2000). These three universities are considered autonomous academically and administratively, but rely heavily on the government for funding. The Singapore Institute of Management Open University was recently upgraded to become a private comprehensive university: SIM University (UniSIM).

The National University of Singapore is the nation’s oldest and is considered one of the best comprehensive universities in the world, with strengths in education and research. It has over 24,000 undergraduate and 7,000 graduate students, with an enrollment from over 100 countries.

Nanyang Technological University has an enrollment of more than 20,000 undergraduate and 8,700 graduate students.

Singapore Management University was created in collaboration with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and as such its educational and administrative practices follow the U.S. model. The university has more than 5,600 students in its six schools. It is considered private, yet relies heavily on the government for funding.

Singapore Institute of Management University is the country’s only fully private university, and caters to the learning needs of working professionals and adult learners using flexible and modular programs.

Plans have recently been announced for the creation of up to three new public universities with the capacity to increase university enrollments by 30 percent by 2015. The first of those universities will reportedly be established in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an as-yet-unnamed Chinese partner. The research-intensive university is slated to open in Changi by 2011 with an undergraduate student population capped at 4,000.

Foreign Institutions of Higher Education

Known as Foreign Specialized Institutes, the government of Singapore has been inviting top institutions from abroad to establish branch campuses on its shores for over a decade.

Many more foreign institutions of higher education offer individual programs in partnership with local private institutions of higher education (see above under Global Schoolhouse).

Competition

The nation places great emphasis on academic excellence. As a result, competition for university places is intense. It is commonly said that Singapore’s top 50 percent of secondary graduates are as academically talented as the top 10 percent in many other developed nations. However, education officials and commentators have expressed concern that the country is too exam oriented and graduates lack the capability to think critically and for themselves, while also lacking an ability to be innovative.

In response, Singapore’s three universities are reviewing their admissions criteria and also their teaching methodologies in a bid to move away from an emphasis on grades to a more holistic admissions and teaching approach. As such, aptitude tests are being experimented with, and extracurricular activities and project work are being considered in admissions decisions, while candidates may also have to undergo a faculty interview.

University Entry

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) conduct their own separate admission exercises for A-level and polytechnic graduates within the broader national admissions framework.

Students must have at least two Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-level examination passes (prior to 2006) or two H2 passes (from 2006) in subjects relevant to their proposed course of study, in addition to an ‘AO’ pass in the General Paper (GP) or Knowledge & Inquiry (KI) subject and the mother-tongue language subject. Polytechnic graduates are also considered for entry to these universities. NUS and NTU also have the autonomy to admit up to 10 percent of their respective intakes based on their own independent criteria.

Singapore Management University requires that students with a Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-level education have good passes in at least 3 H2 subjects, in addition to a good pass in the General Paper, a good pass in mathematics at H1 Level, and a minimum of an ‘S’ grade in the mother-tongue language. Polytechnic graduates, with a diploma and at least a C6 grade in additional mathematics at GCE O-Level will also be accepted to any of the six undergraduate programs offered by the university.

Additional faculty admission criteria such as interviews or aptitude tests are also used in certain circumstances at all universities.

At the private Singapore Institute of Management, which caters largely to working adults, applicants need A-Level passes in two subjects (prior to 2006) or two H2 passes (from 2006), they need to be at least 21 years of age and have two years of work experience. A polytechnic diploma or equivalent is also accepted instead of GCE A-Level qualifications.

At the eight campuses established by foreign institutions of higher education, entry requirements vary and are set by the individual institution. The requirements may be quite different from that set by local universities.

Program and Qualifications Structure

Bachelor Degrees

Bachelor’s degrees typically require thee years of study. Professional degrees (law, engineering, dentistry and science) require four years of study. Medicine and architecture require five years of study. Honors degrees require an extra year of study.

Degrees are awarded according to the British grading system: First Class, Second Class – Upper Division, Second Class- Lower Division, or Pass Division.

Master Degrees

Singapore’s three public universities offer a wide range of master’s programs through their various graduate schools, and students have an equally wide range of study options from coursework and examination to research and thesis. Most programs are completed in one to three years of full-time study.

At Nanyang Technological University, entry requirements for taught coursework programs require an appropriate bachelor degree and at least three years of work experience. A research masters typically requires a bachelor degree with at least Second Class Honors for entry.

At the National University of Singapore, entry to all master degree programs requires a bachelor degree awarded with at least Second Class Honors.

Singapore Management University entry requirements vary, but a bachelor degree is the minimum requirement. The university also requires written essays, an interview and a good score in the Graduate Management Admissions Test (600 or better).

Doctoral Degrees

Doctor of Philosophy candidates are typically admitted on the strength of their master’s degrees, and the program requires the completion of a dissertation after research in an approved topic, requiring a minimum of two years and a maximum of five years of full-time study.

Grading System

Different universities use different grading systems. Singapore Management University uses a four-point scale, while the National University of Singapore uses a five-point scale. At NUS, a GPA of 3.2 or above is considered a Pass with Merit; 2.0 to 3.19, a pass; and below 2.0, a fail.

At the honors level (four years), the grading system is similar to the British system: First Class Honors (4.5 GPA or above), Second Class, Upper (4.0-4.49), Second Class, Lower (3.5-3.99), Third Class (3.2-3.49), Pass (2.0-3.19), Fail (below 2.0).

Please follow this link http://www.wes.org/gradeconversionguide/index.asp to see World Education Service’s suggested grade equivalencies.

Technical and Vocational

Admission

The Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) is conducted annually for school leavers and others with the Singapore-Cambridge GCE O-Level certificate, and allows them to apply for admission to programs offered at polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.

Programs

Programs in the technical and vocational sector are offered mainly in the public sector by polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). There are currently five polytechnics: Nanyang, Ngee Ann, Republic, Singapore and Temasek. A small number of specialized programs are also offered at niche institutions in the private sector.

Polytechnic diploma programs typically require three years of full-time study after the completion of GCE O-levels. Programs are offered in a wide range of disciplines and new fields of study are frequently added as the needs of the labor market dictate.

Polytechnics also offer advanced, specialist and post-diploma programs to diploma and degree holders. These are typically offered on a part-time basis. Polytechnics also offer a limited number of degree programs in collaboration with foreign partners under the Polytechnic-Foreign Specialized Institute collaborative framework.

The Institute of Technical Education offers certificate programs designed to train workers in the new economy. The certificates are offered at three levels: National ITE Certificate (Nitec), Higher Nitec and Master Nitec.

The entry requirement for the Nitec is the GCE N-Level. It replaces (pre 2002) the National Technical Certificate Grade 2, the National Certificate in Nursing (NCN) and Certificate in Office Skills (COS).

The Higher Nitec requires GCE O-Levels as the entry requirement. The Higher Nitec replaces the Industrial Technician Certificate and the Certificate in Business Studies.

The Master Nitec is open to ITE graduates with the former NTC-2 or the new Nitec qualification and relevant work experience. It replaces the National Technical Certificate Grade 1.

Graduates from ITE can enroll in polytechnic diploma programs, while diploma holders can advance to university-level studies.

Private Sector Offerings

Private institutions also offer certificate, diploma and advanced diploma programs in their areas of specialization. They also offer undergraduate and graduate programs in collaboration with foreign universities.

Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system

This qualification framework has been recently introduced as a means of upgrading the skills of those already in the workforce. The government body responsible for overseeing this system of qualifications, the Workforce Development Agency, works closely with industry to develop certifications relevant to their manpower needs. There are seven tiers in the framework: certificate, higher certificate, advanced certificate, diploma or professional diploma, specialist diploma, graduate certificate and graduate diploma. Training is provided by private and public institutions.

Resources

Education Ladder/Tree: http://www.singaporeedu.gov.sg/htm/stu/stu01.htm

Universities and Polytechnics: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/post-secondary/

Education Statistics: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/education-statistics-digest/

Information for Foreign Students: http://app.singaporeedu.gov.sg/asp/index.asp

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Posted in Asia Pacific, Education System Profiles