Demystifying Private Institutions: A Guide to Key Terms You Should Know

Demystifying Private Institutions

Looking at Private Education Institution (PEI) options but unsure about the terms that keep coming up?

Let us help! By the end of the article, the only mystery left will be what you want to study!

1) International Foundation Diploma

On top of conventional diplomas, PEIs offer the International Foundational Diploma (IFD) — or the Foundational Diploma for short. Take note that the IFD and standard Diplomas aren’t the same!

An International Foundation Diploma provides the necessary foundation to progress to an undergraduate degree. It usually lasts 6 – 12 months and covers fundamental skills like critical thinking, communications, academic writing, and learning strategies to prepare you for the rigour of undergraduate coursework. You will also study fundamental concepts and content relevant to your intended progression route.

You can apply for these fresh out of O-Levels or ITE, making them a great alternative route to Polytechnics. Both full-time and part-time options are available. 

2) Diplomas

In PEIs, you can proceed to a standard Diploma after taking a Foundational Diploma. They’re sometimes called Higher/Advanced Diplomas and typically last anywhere between 6-15 months, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time.

What’s the difference between this and the IFD? Here are two important differences:

    • An IFD allows you to proceed to Year 1 of undergraduate education, depending on the PEI and degree. A Diploma, however, allows you direct entry into Year 2 of a PEI’s undergraduate degree. You may also be eligible for admission into a Top-Up Programme, which we’ll explain further below.

    • As IFDs are bridging programmes, employers will not recognise them as Diploma-level qualifications. Also, some institutions do not provide exit certificates for IFDs.

There are diplomas catered to working professionals looking to upskill, too. These are called Graduate Diplomas, and they are great for individuals who want to deepen their expertise in a particular area — without committing to the extensive research and duration typically associated with Master’s or Doctoral degrees.

3) Externally Awarded Degrees

You’ve probably come across this term multiple times. Here is why “externally awarded” is included: PEIs partner with reputable foreign universities (also called partner universities) to offer their degrees locally. This allows you to obtain overseas degrees without leaving Singapore.

Some benefits of externally awarded degrees (subject to the PEI and degree) include:

    • Exposure to different teaching pedagogies and learning cultures

    • The option to participate in student exchange programmes overseas or study a semester at the university’s home campus

    • The course curriculum of these programmes may be tailored to suit the local context and industry needs. When this happens, the partner universities work with the PEIs to adapt the courses

4) Top-Up Degrees

What about “Top-Ups” then? Why are they known as such?

Typically one year in length, a Top-up degree covers the final year of a standard three-year bachelor’s programme. Students study modules that build upon their existing knowledge and qualifications, saving time and money from not having to restart an entire three-year course.

Top-up degrees are available in a wide range of subjects, including business studies, computing, engineering, health sciences, and many more. A student with a foundation degree in business management, for example, may top up to a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

This is how your education pathway may look, for example, if you were to study management studies at the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS)*:

RouteTime taken (Full-time)
International Foundation Diploma in Management Studies  > Diploma in Management Studies > Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Business and Management (Top-Up)6 Months + 7 Months + 18 Months = 31 Months
International Foundation Diploma in Management Studies  > Diploma in Management Studies  > Advanced Diploma > Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Business and Management (Top-Up)6 Months + 7 Months + 6 Months + 9 Months = 28 Months
Diploma in Management Studies > Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Business and Management (Top-Up)7 Months + 18 Months = 25 Months

*Time frame varies between different disciplines and PEIs

Fun Fact:One reason your education journey is expedited at a PEI (as compared to local autonomous universities) is because of shorter holiday/term breaks!

With a stronger understanding of these terms, you’ll be able to better explore your options at any PEI!

If studying at a PEI is becoming more appealing by the minute, and you have to start with a Diploma or IFD, MDIS’ Diploma catalogue is a good place to begin looking: the non-profit institution offers a range of IFDs, Diplomas and Higher/Advanced Diplomas that suit different learners’ needs and career goals. From Healthcare Management to Fashion Product and Promotion, there is an option for everyone.

Admissions are open at various times of the year, so do keep an eye on MDIS’ website. 

If you’re undecided, you can enquire with MDIS course consultants to better understand what’s available and the pathways you can take to achieve your career goals.

All the best for your next phase of life!


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