Country Guide : Study in Singapore

It may be small, but in the realms of higher education and research, Singapore is a big hitter. If you’re thinking about pursuing study in Singapore, read on to find out everything you need to know to get started on your Southeast Asian journey.

A whole series of global reports have recognized Singapore as a world leader in research and innovation over the past few decades. Most recently, it ranked eighth in the 2013 INSEAD Global Innovation Index, fifth in IMD’s 2013 World Competitiveness Rankings and second in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-13.

Within this context of global competitiveness and innovation, universities in Singapore are also gaining growing recognition, as Asian nations more generally strengthen their position in the global education market. Singapore featured in 15th place in the 2015 QS Best Student Cities, reflecting the country’s combination of high-ranking universities, high quality of life, and diverse student community.

Universities in Singapore

Of the 34 universities in Singapore, six of which are national, two feature in the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings®. Both of these, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, are ranked within the top 50 in the world, offering courses in wide range of subjects to their student populations of over 30,000 each.

National University of Singapore

Singapore’s global superstar, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is currently ranked at 24th in the world and number one in the 2014 QS University Rankings: Asia. Within the QS World University Rankings by Subject, NUS displays a breadth of high performance few universities anywhere in the world can rival. The school is now ranked within the global top 10 for mechanical, chemical, civil and electrical engineering; geography, computer science; materials science; politics; communication and media studies; statistics and modern languages.

Nanyang Technological University

Singapore has more than one string to its bow however, and the National University of Singapore is closely followed by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), ranked 41st in the world. Subjects for which NTU ranks within the top 50 globally include accounting and finance; chemistry; computer science; communications and media studies; education; engineering; English language and literature; materials science; mathematics; psychology and statistics. Continuing to develop, the school enrolled its first batch of students at its new Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in the summer of 2013, as part of a collaboration with the UK’s Imperial College London.

Singapore Management University

Offering a more specialized range of subjects, the Singapore Management University is also among Singapore’s best known institutions, ranking among the world’s leading providers of education in the fields of accounting and finance, computer science, economics, law and statistics.

Other international universities in Singapore

Other relatively recently established colleges and universities in Singapore collaborating with leading global schools include the Singapore University of Technology and Design, developed in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and Zhejiang University in China. Yale-NUS College is another international collaboration, launched in 2011 as the first liberal arts college in Singapore, and one of few in the whole of Asia. Yale-NUS College is established in partnership between the National University of Singapore and the US’s Yale University. These collaborations reflect the eagerness among universities in Singapore to globalize their higher education system, leading to a growing selection of exciting options for prospective students.

Living in Singapore

A crowded, yet safe and efficient, city state, Singapore is one of the four “Asian Tiger” economies, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, a group known for enjoying rapid economic growth in the second half of the twentieth century.

This fast development and prosperity has also given Singapore a population density among the world’s highest, with the allure of such a strident economy and the ease of doing business proving hard to resist for many incoming immigrants. It is also known for its cleanliness – famously, you aren’t allowed to chew gum in Singapore, to ensure none ends up on the pavements – as well as for its punctual trains and clear roads filled with gleaming automobiles, for which time-limited certificates of entitlement must be purchased. Singapore also has very strict laws against drug use, leading to one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world.

There’s more to this island republic than strict laws and a booming financial services sector, however. For one thing, Singapore is a true melting pot of cultures, languages and religions, with its mixed Chinese, Malaysian and Indian population each contributing elements from their native cultures to create a hybrid identity which is unique to the city.

British culture is also a big influence on Singapore, which comes as a result of both a large expatriate population and colonial past. This has led to the region being dubbed as a place where “East meets West”, which gives an insight into the cosmopolitan, inclusive nature of the place.

One such example of Singapore’s diverse cultural influences is its food, with its authentic mixture of Asian, Asian-fusion and Western tastes and styles talked about reverently by nearly all who visit.

Although a secular state, Singapore hosts an eclectic multitude of religious beliefs, making it not uncommon to find a mosque next to a temple amidst the gleaming skyscrapers, adding both color and drama to the cityscape and reinforcing the ideas of mutual respect and social cohesion which are so important here.

In recent years, Singapore has also invested heavily in arts and culture, to aid its plethora of festivals, museums and public gardens, with the goal of helping to develop its image as more than just a hub of finance and business.

Tuition and living costs

Singapore’s strong economy and high quality of living is accompanied by correspondingly high living costs, and some of the highest tuition fees in Asia. However, it’s still a relatively inexpensive option when comparing tuition costs internationally, with destinations such as the UK or Australia for example. Annual fees currently average around S$14,800 (US$11,800), but be aware that depending on the prominence of the university and the program you undertake, you may end up paying considerably more. The good news is that 52% of international students receive financial aid.

The National University of Singapore’s current annual tuition fees range from just over S$13,700 (US$11,000) to as much as S$40,000 (US$32,000) for programs in medicine and dentistry. Programs not subsidized by the government start at S$26,300 (US$21,000).

With rises in the costs of food and transport in the last five years, living costs are another significant expenditure. Expect housing, bills and other necessary expenses to cost you, on average, just under S$9,400 (US$7,500) a year.

Applications and visas to study in Singapore

In order to study in Singapore as an international student, you will need to apply directly to the institution at which you want to study. Therefore your first port of call, to check deadlines, application procedures and any other details, will be with the institution itself. There may be limitations on how many courses you can apply for at any given institution, so make sure you check the fine print.

International students wishing to study in Singapore will need a student visa. This will be issued along with your letter of approval (also known as your in-principal approval or IPA) once your application has been accepted by a recognized university. Your application is subject to previous recognized qualifications, evidence of the required paperwork, and proof of sufficient English language skills.

While this automatic issuance means you do not have to worry about applying for your student visa, you will have to apply to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) for a Student Pass within two weeks of getting accepted. This also has to be no earlier than two months before and no later than one month prior to the start of your course. You will have to do this through the Student’s Pass Online Application & Registration System, known as SOLAR, which the institution at which you have been accepted will register you with.

To apply online for your Student Pass, log on to SOLAR with the registration details your school has provided and fill in and submit eForm 16 via SOLAR. This will require valid passport details, the address of your university, your email address and a recent photo. To complete the process after arrival in the country, you’ll need to make an appointment with the ICA and bring your disembarkation/embarkation card granted on entry into Singapore, a passport-sized picture, a printout of a signed and completed eForm 16, a copy of your in-principle approval, and a recent medical report on the correct form. When collecting the Student Pass, a signed copy of the terms and conditions form must also be supplied. You will be charged S$30 (US$24) when submitting your application and a further S$60 (US$48) when the pass is issued.

Your Student Pass will allow you to work full-time in the school holidays and 16 hours a week in term time for most students.

Both domestic and international students are also eligible to apply to the Singaporean Ministry of Education for a tuition grant, after having been offered a place on a course. This covers much of the costs of university tuition fees. In return for this grant, however, international students must sign a bond committing themselves to work for a Singapore-registered company for at least three years after completing their degree, in order to ensure the country benefits from the skills of those it educates. The period of this bond is often longer for students of medicine and dentistry.