Much more than a holiday destination, Singapore is a hub for academic excellence in South-East Asia. It boasts top-ranked universities (including 2 of its 5 publicly-funded universities in the world top 100 institutions), high standards of teaching and learning, world-renowned academics and state-of-the-art study/research facilities. Postgraduate courses in Singapore are taught in English which, as the mother tongue of many Singaporeans, is widely used. Every year, an increasing number of international students at all levels of education makes the decision to study for their degrees in Singapore. Scholarships opportunities are also available to international students as are opportunities to work in Singapore after graduation.
University system in Singapore
For a country of its size, the Singaporean Higher Education landscape is incredibly varied, including local universities and foreign institutions. Stringent quality assurance frameworks are in place to make sure that graduate courses are of the highest quality and recognised internationally. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is the body in charge of higher education in Singapore, although since 2011, private institutions must be registered with the Council for Private Education (CPE). However, there is currently no list of accredited overseas universities and no central authority in Singapore which grants recognition for degrees obtained from overseas universities. It is therefore recommended that you check whether the institution is a bona fide educational establishment, through the relevant authorities of the institution’s country of origin. Similarly, it is advisable to ensure that degrees from overseas institutions in professional areas such as engineering are recognised by the appropriate professional body.
Postgraduate study is referred simply as “Graduate Study”, taught masters and professional doctorates being referred to as “Graduate Studies by Coursework” while masters by research and PhDs are referred to as ““Graduate Studies by Research”.
Singapore has 6 local universities (5 public and 1 private), offering Masters study opportunities:
- National University of Singapore (NUS)
- Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
- Singapore Management University (SMU)
- Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
- Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
- SIM University (private comprehensive institution)
In addition to local universities, many of the world's leading foreign universities are offering graduate programmes in Singapore, either on their own or by collaboration with local universities (which will be the awarding institutions).
Masters tuition fees and miscellaneous fees
The currency of Singapore is the Singaporean Dollar (S$). Fees for masters study are made up of several components:
- Application fee (not all universities charge this): S$15-40
- Matriculation fee (one-time only): approx S$50
- Tuition fees (per annum): S$20,000-54,000 (depending on the institution and subject area)
- Amenities fees (per annum): S$10-20
- Computer fees (per annum): S$10-20
- Health Insurance (per annum): varies depending on institution and scheme
- Exam fee (one-time fee): S$200-500
Fees may also be quoted per semester or trimester but interestingly some institutions have 3 semesters per year (i.e. a semester is 4 months!) or only 3 trimesters per year so take that into account when calculating fees.
Tuition Fee Subsidy and Service Obligation
Foreign students at local universities who self-finance can choose to pay a subsidised tuition fee rate. This is not open to students who receive any kind of scholarship. Not all programmes are eligible for the subsidy and these are selected on the basis of the needs of the labour market. Individual universities also have the authority to decide which programmes can benefit from an MoE subsidy so check the university’s website carefully. The subsidy amount for overseas students ranges from S$5,000-S$40,000 depending on the subject area. To qualify, you need to sign an agreement, called a service obligation (SO) with the MoE to work in Singapore-based companies for 3 years after graduation. For more information, please refer to the MoE website.
Although attractive financially, the duration of the SO is fixed at 3 years, regardless of the duration of study at subsidised rates, so even if your masters degree is only 1 year, you will have to fulfil the 3 year SO, so make sure you understand the terms and that you have long-term plans to work in Singapore.
Masters Scholarships and Financial Assistance
Financial assistance for graduate students is also available in the form of scholarships from universities and from external agencies. Graduate scholarships all have eligibility criteria, are highly competitive and are generally awarded on the basis of academic excellence. Scholarships will often cover tuition fees and and associated fees. Examples include:
- ASEAN Scholarship (for nationals of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
- APEC Scholarship (Full-time MBA; selected nationalities)
- Tuition fee allowance from Universities
- University scholarships
Other forms of financial aid include study loans and part-time jobs. International students with a Student Pass (Student visa – see Immigration section in “Living in Singapore”) who are studying for a full-time degree may work up to 16 hours a week during the academic year and full-time during holidays, without having to apply for any additional permission.
Graduate students (excluding those who receive scholarships, fee subsidies and external funding) may also apply for a loan under the Tuition Fee Loan (TFL) scheme. The maximum loan amount is 90% of the tuition fees payable by Singapore citizens and available for selected Masters degrees. TFL providers are local banks and the loans are applied for through your institution.
Applying and Admissions
Applications are normally done via the graduate office (or equivalent), although individual programmes may have their own online form. Decisions on admissions are most often made by the Faculty/School after careful evaluation of all applications. Evaluation is carried out based on a combination of factors such as previous degrees and academic record, references, test scores and relevant work experience.
The majority of graduate programmes will admit students twice a year, in August and January, each intake having a specific deadline for application.
Masters Entry Requirements
Candidates must demonstrate readiness for graduate study and may be required to submit entry examination scores (e.g. GRE or GMAT). Admission to both coursework-based and research masters requires a good Honours degree or equivalent, in the subject or related discipline. Achieving the minimum entry requirements is not, in itself, a guarantee of admission, since the number of qualified applicants sometimes exceeds the number of places available. Departments may also admit students with a good Bachelor (ordinary) degree who have relevant research or working experience, subject to approval by the relevant administrative body.
Students whose native language is not English will need to demonstrate proficiency in English in the form of TOEFL or IELTS as part of the admission criteria. The Malaysian University English Test is also sometimes accepted.
The nomenclature for naming masters degrees in Singapore is similar to the UK and the US, with masters in scientific subjects called MSc, Masters in the arts and humanities called MA and the Masters in Law being an LLM.
Unlike in the UK where masters programmes are fairly homogeneous in structure, it varies considerably in Singapore, each institution having a unique way to approach masters studies. The duration can range from 1-2 years full-time and the curriculum can be more or less structured depending on the institution.
For example, NUS has flexible approach to masters’ duration: “The […] graduate curricula are based on a modular system” so there isn’t a defined study period but a minimum number of credits must be gained every semester. At NTU, however, full-time masters in engineering have a normal duration of one year. During this time, students are required to complete 30 academic units to graduate. Lectures are normally in the evenings while the practical aspects (where relevant) are undertaken during the day time throughout the week or even on a Saturday!
MBA programmes can take between 12-18 months full-time. Part-time and full-time options are available for most Masters programmes.
There are also options available for those with qualifications lower than a Bachelor (Honours) and these masters may take longer. For example at NUS, the MSc Chemistry is also available as a 3 year-degree for those with an ordinary Bachelor.
Masters by coursework are taught as a mixtures of lectures, seminars, group work, tutorials and a final year project/dissertation. You may be required to undertake this project at the end of your masters or as a continuous task throughout your studies while taking courses. Less commonly, universities may also offer masters whereby no dissertation/project is required (called “the coursework track”) and credits are obtained solely by attending and passing courses.
For masters by research, the dissertation (based on supervised research) is a more substantial piece than for taught Masters and will be around 30,000 words. You will also have to attend and pass around 4 courses throughout your degree.
In local universities, the dissertation for the project must be submitted within a prescribed period (usually 3 years full-time) after the start of the programme (which may be called “commencement of the candidature” or “maximum length of candidature”) and not necessarily at the formal end of the teaching period.
At the end of your programme, you will be given a grade point average (GPA) or a cumulative GPA if your programme lasts more than 1 year. The GPA scale is a 5-point scale with a maximum of 5.0 and 2.50 often being the pass mark.
Employability and jobs
In Singapore, a masters degree is often a pre-requisite for PhD study but it also opens a number of career options. Singapore is one of the most attractive countries for foreigners seeking highly-skilled work and being a hub for business and high-tech industries in South-East Asia, Singapore offers a wide-range of opportunities, notably in key sectors such as banking and finance, biomedical sciences, chemicals, communications and media, electronics, healthcare and information technologies.
Not all local universities have careers services but if they do, it is worth making good use of them as they will have good contacts with employers and will hosts events, such as careers fairs where you can meet companies (both local and multinationals) recruiting high-caliber graduates. Masters from Singaporean universities are highly value and NTU, for example, achieved, in 2011, a 97% graduate employment rate when measured 4 months after graduation.
GradSingapore is a website which provides advice to graduates on careers and job opportunities in Singapore. Contact Singapore is another helpful resource for those interested in employment in Singapore. Of particular interest is their “8 steps to working in Singapore” as well as The Singapore Yearbook of Manpower Statistics which shows the mean monthly salary for various professional activities. PayScale is a website which allows you to search the average annual salary of alumni from various institutions in Singapore according to the professional activities. Not all of them are represented but it will give you an idea of what to expect later on in your chosen career if you choose to stay in Singapore.