Is Getting a Private University Education Worth It in Singapore?

By Joanne Poh

While it’s true that Singapore students have lots more tertiary education options now than they did ten years ago, to say we have a really diverse educational landscape is like saying Marina Bay Sands has turned Singapore into a tourist destination that rivals Paris or London.

The truth is that students who screw up their O levels or A levels are going to have a tough time getting into their university course of choice. We just don’t have enough room in our public universities to accommodate everyone.

While students in bigger countries have long lists of universities to choose from and the option to move to another city or town for school, here it’s still pretty much down to NUS, NTU, SMU or SUTD. SIT and SIM still largely cater to students who want to take their partner university programmes offering degrees accredited by an overseas university.

Sure, it’s possible to get a private education at places like MDIS or Kaplan. These schools offer programmes from overseas universities. But is it the right move? Here are some pros and cons of enrolling in a private school.


It’s Expensive

Unfortunately, getting an education from a private institution is often quite expensive. You’re not eligible for the MOE tuition fee loan the way students from NUS or NTU are, so you’ve got to either the full amount yourself or take a bank loan.

For instance, MDIS charges $27,584.17 for their 18-month Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications awarded Oklahoma City University. SIM’s Bachelor of Science (Business Administration) awarded by SUNY Buffalo costs $34,669 to $69,336 for the entire course. That’s more expensive per annum than any of the public universities’ courses.

As most partnerships are with universities in Australia, the USA and the UK, the three countries with some of the most expensive fees for international students, you might end up paying even less studying in a foreign country with cheap or free university courses.

You’ll be disadvantaged at certain jobs

The sad truth is that many employers in Singapore still care a lot about where you went to university, and in certain jobs the NUS graduate is always going to be looked upon more favourably than the guy who did a course at Kaplan with a partner university.

For instance, if you intend to become a civil servant, it’s quite difficult to even get your foot in the door with a private school degree, and even if you do get hired you’ll be placed on a lower pay scale than grads from local universities.

In the private sector, it really depends which company you want to work for and which industry you’re in. For instance, if you’re a graphic designer and have a great portfolio, many employers aren’t going to care whether you went to university or not. Many graduates from private school programmes are also hired by international banks’ back offices.


A degree will open some doors no matter where it’s from

Many jobs in Singapore require at least a degree, and if you only have a diploma you will either be refused the position right off the bat or paid less than your degree-holding counterparts.

For instance, if you want to become an operations analyst at a bank, it’s likely you’ll need at least a degree to be considered. However, many banks will hire you no matter where your degree comes from.

You can study part time during NS

One thing that people often overlook is the fact that you can enrol in some private school degree courses on a part-time basis, while most of the public universities’ bachelor’s degree courses are full-time only.

On the other hand, many private school courses are designed for working adults and can be taken on a part-time basis in the evenings after work or, in the case of army boys, after their NS session for the day if they manage to get a 9 to 5 vocation, that is.

Two years of NS is a long time, and you might even be able to complete an entire diploma or top-up degree course (assuming you have a prior diploma) before you ORD.

You’ll learn something useful

Education isn’t just a piece of paper, no matter what the system might have led you to think. You’ll learn something useful from your course if you choose wisely, so try not to completely slack off or pay people to do your homework.

For instance, if you’re signing up to study communications, you’ll learn a lot about how to produce videos, write press releases and edit publications whether you went to NTU or enrolled in MDIS’s Oklahoma City University programme. And if your employer is smart, he’ll realise it’s the skills you’ve taken away from the degree that count.

This article was first published over at MoneySmart blog on 23 December 2015. It is reproduced with permission.

About The Author (Joanne Poh)

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.


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