The basics
Singapore: Applying to University - Must read

The Singaporean higher education system...simplified


Modern Singapore is one of the world’s largest and busiest ports, as well as a global leader in telecommunications and information technology. It’s also home to a number of world-class universities, and has enjoyed a place near the top of international leagues tables in reading, maths and science for the last decade. If you’re planning to study abroad in Singapore, it’s important that you have a thorough understanding of the nation’s higher education system before you start working on your application. Let our breakdown of how it works help get you on your way.


Types of institution

The type of host institution you’ll study at depends on both your area of study and the qualification you’d like to be awarded.


Institute of Technical Education

The only one of its kind, Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education offers programmes that are technical in nature, and is the national authority for setting skills standards for the certification of skills in Singapore. Study areas include applied sciences, business, design and media, electronics and information communications technology, engineering and hospitality. Students may choose between full or part-time educational or traineeship courses.



Polytechnic institutions such as Nanyang Polytechnic provide training for specific skills directly geared towards the workplace. Programmes offered are practice-oriented, and are available at diploma and degree levels. Polytechnics are key providers of continuing education and post-employment professional development services.


Other Educational Institutions

There are also a number of unique, independent educational institutions that offer specialist courses of study across degree and diploma levels. For example, studies at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) are publicly-funded diploma programmes in the arts. These institutions are not funded or regulated by the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) and so prospective students should be sure to research study options thoroughly and confirm details directly with their host institution.



Singapore has a number of universities that are publicly-funded, private, national, and branch campuses of foreign tertiary institutions. Whilst specific programmes on offer vary between institutions, students are able to undertake study in post undergraduate and postgraduate levels across most general fields of study. There are four national, government-funded universities in Singapore: the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and Singapore University of Technology and Design.



A typical Bachelors Degree in Singapore is about three-four years in duration for full time students. Students are able to undertake studies both in general areas, i.e. Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS), or more programmes with a more specific focus within those fields such as a Bachelor of Science (Business Analytics).  Students undertaking programmes of study in general fields will have to select an area they will specialise in within that field. This area is called a ‘major,’ and students will need to complete a quota of subjects within it in order to be awarded the title. Some programmes offer students the chance to complete a secondary tract of study within the same field with a lower required subject quota, called a ‘minor.’ Different majoring, minoring and credit options should be pursued directly with each institution.



Students may complete postgraduate study programmes at both Masters and Doctorate levels, across all areas of general study. A typical Masters degree for a full-time student is one-two years in length, whilst a PhD may take between two-five years to complete. Specific requirements, course and credit options for postgraduate programmes varies between institutions more significantly than undergraduate studies, and should always be researched thoroughly and confirmed directly with host and home departments. Postgraduate study takes a deeper, more specialised focus upon a field of study than in undergraduate, and so students should be more decisive about their subject choices.


Academic culture

The academic culture of Singapore aims to provide students with a holistic, broad education. Singapore is an increasingly international country, and from secondary school level emphasises importance of students learning English as a common working language.

Teaching style in Singapore is systematic, pragmatic and instructional, based on pedagogical traditions from both East and West. Examinations are considered necessary and key parts of educational assessment, with professors placing crucial focus on preparing students for exams as thoroughly as possible. Curriculum emphasises understanding and proficiency of specific learning procedures and worked examples to acquaint students with concepts covered in the broadest way possible. Students are pushed to understand what they’re learning as well as why they’re learning it, and so are better equipped to deal with the ‘real-world’ application of class content.

Whilst some classes encourage discussion, education in Singapore is generally teacher-lead and assumes students will follow course content with individual attention. There is key cultural value placed on hard work and meritocracy, with importance placed on grades. Whilst recent initiatives have been put in place to shift focus from the important of grades, university culture is generally quite competitive and students will often complete independent research in addition to set coursework in order to maintain a high academic standard.


Now that you’ve got a better idea of how the higher education system works in Singapore, start browsing courses in Singapore now and plan your study abroad adventure!


Useful Links

National University of Singapore tackles nation-wide obsession with grades

Singapore student visa: how to apply


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About Author

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.