“Two roads diverge in a yellow wood.” Now you are at the crossroad in your life, thinking about the direction of the next step.
It is understandable if you are unsure. Recent survey results from CPE(Council of Private Education) tells us that the median salary of private school graduates is $2700, as compared to that of public university graduates at $3200.
Is it a deal breaker for students intending to go to private university? We think otherwise. And we urge you to dive deeper beyond the surface too.
The survey was administered to 4200 students from various private education providers. The whole list was not disclosed. Unlike public universities, we have to acknowledge that the quality of private institutions varies, and it varies quite drastically.
It is important to choose the right one, should you embark on private education.
There are hundreds of private universities in Singapore! If you are inclined towards getting into a private university in Singapore, there are plenty of choices for you to choose from.
Probably too many choices? We agree. The list of the private universities here keeps expanding year on year. While Google gives you many school names, it doesn’t help you make a decision. Now you are at the right place where you can stop the frantic search and ponder about the criteria for choosing a private university.
Recognition by Accreditation
Although the official stance of the Singapore government is that all degrees awarded by overseas universities (that are accredited by their home countries) should be accepted, employers in practice do have their own view on which private universities are more recognition-worthy.
Almost all private universities here would tell you that their degrees are accredited. But still, you would want to go for those that are better accredited to increase your job prospects.
We are not endorsing any schools here, but asking around, you will realize that there are a few main private universities that are more welcomed among employers in Singapore. We will touch on 6 schools in this article: SIM GE, Kaplan, MDIS, PSB, EASB and JCU, which are all awarded with the 4-years Edutrust certification (valid as of the publishing of the article). The EduTrust scheme is administered by the Council for Private Education (CPE), a statuary board formed in 2009 that regulates the education sectors in Singapore. Among the 6, only JCU, Australia, operates independently and does not have any intermediaries. The others award degrees from partner universities overseas.
There are also other forms of recognition in Singapore. For example, Kaplan has been awarded the Best Private Education Institute in the fields of Law/Accountancy/Business Management/Marketing/Psychology in 2017. APAC Insider awarded PSB Academy the accolade of Education Institution of the Year (2017). Moreover, for the eighth year running, SIM GE has been picked as Best Private Institute by AsiaOne readers at the AsiaOne People’s Choice Awards 2016. Click on the Awards section of each university’s website for more details.
Also, do check their overseas parent/partner universities and their respective rankings in their home country. The degree you receive at the end of your degree programme will be identical to the ones that on-campus students at the same partner university will receive. Hence, in general, a higher ranking of the overseas university will be more favourable for you. This is also important if you are considering pursuing further studies, especially in the country where the parent/partner university is located. For example, James Cook University, another popular Australian university that operates in Singapore, has been ranked (https://www.jcu.edu.sg/news/releases/jcu-now-ranked-in-the-top-250-of-worlds-universities) in the top 4% of the world’s approximately 10,000 universities—no small feat.
While there are a fair bit of ranking lists out there, the more established ones include the Times Higher Education World University Rankings as well as the QS World University Rankings. You can refer to these two rankings for a clearer idea of where the partner university stands.
A word of caution, however: rankings can be really subjective and be based upon a whole host of variables that do not affect the quality of education (example being the annual output of published research). So make sure that the rankings aren’t the ultimate factor that’ll impact your decision. Instead, one thing to look at could be your future professors: will the faculty based in the partner university be teaching the degree here? If they aren’t, who is? Are they experienced?
Recognition by Reputation
Again, let’s think like your employer. The HR person in your dream company may not be free enough to do a thorough checkup of each and every private university and their certificates of accreditation. They are usually selecting candidates based on their impression of the school and the reputation of the student population.
Here, we are entering tricky waters. Since no one person thinks alike, how can you know what a recruiter may think about a particular private university?
The good thing here is that there are still a few factors that we can follow in gauging the reputation of a university. Length of history in Singapore is one factor. For example, MDIS was established in 1956 and is almost as old as modern Singapore. Its brand name is not strange to many Singaporeans. Moreover, you can click on their News page and see what is happening with the school. For example, PSB invested in new campuses in 2017 and 2018 to accommodate a growing student population; that says something about the school’s commitment to education.
News can usually tell you a lot on the social opinion the university is enjoying. Do they have any collaboration with the government? Are they featured frequently in the news or was the latest news update two years ago? Just a quick glance of the East Asia Institute of Management will give you an insight into how busy the university is in building its outreach, holding a convention with scholarship providers and education partners as recently as December 2017. All these speak about how actively the universities have been promoting its brands in society, including towards the employers of your choice.
Course: What do you want to study?
You not only want to study in a recognised private university, but you also want to study a course that fits your needs. First and foremost, check out if the university offers the course of your choice. If you are interested in a degree that is common, such as business, engineering or communication, you should be able to study it in most of the private universities in Singapore. However, if you want to study in a more specialised area (which also means less competition), you may need to dig further. For example, EASB East Asia Institute of Management offers a BA (Hons) in logistics management. MDIS offers a BA (Hons) in fashion design. To find out how to choose a major that you won’t regret, check our guide out.
Moreover, you also want to study at a university that is strong in the course of your interest. JobsCentral surveys, again, provide us with valuable information. It has a ranking of universities by the strength of their specific departments. For example, if you want to study business-related courses, such as accountancy or business administration, SIM Global Education gathers most votes for such degrees in surveys. If you want to pursue a design course, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts may be the most popular in Singapore. Arguably, the reputation of the specific department could be more important than the reputation of the universities.
You’d also want to compare apples to apples. Even if Uni X and Uni Y both offer a degree in mass communications, for example, their content and speciality aren’t necessarily the same. Study the course brochures and synopses. Is what’s being taught aligned with the career direction you have in mind? Do they teach something you’re keen on exploring that can’t be found elsewhere? For example, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing with Honours from Ngee Ann Academy (offered by King’s College London), which is the first nursing degree in Singapore to offer electives in Older Persons’ Care and Palliative Care. For those looking to specialise in this, this degree would be right up their alley!
After you have made sure they offer the right kind of course, you then want to check how the course is conducted. Does it allow full-time or part-time? Is taking a break in between possible? Can you do distance learning? If you have other ongoing commitments, understanding the course schedule is very important. Most established private universities offer part-time degrees, meaning that you can take night classes or even weekend classes, while not giving up your commitment to work or family. But do note studying on a part-time basis usually takes a longer time. For example, studying for a business degree at MDIS requires 24 months of full-time attendance and 36 months for the part-time schedule. (http://www.mdis.edu.sg/academic-programmes/mdis-business-school/bachelor-of-science-hons-business-studies-and-finance)
Lastly, we all want to start making money as soon as we possibly can, don’t we? Hence, amongst the universities that offer solid education, you may also want to see which one offers the shortest duration. The duration may be shorter because the administration allows exemptions of modules for students of certain academic background, or because it allows the overloading of modules. Let’s do a simple comparison of the business degrees in private universities. As mentioned above, MDIS requires 24 months of study; PSB Academy requires only 16 (https://www.psb-academy.edu.sg/coventry-university/bachelor-of-arts-with-honours-in-business-and-finance). A similar degree at SIM GE needs 3 years to complete.(http://www.simge.edu.sg/gePortalWeb/appmanager/web/default?_nfpb=true&_st=&_pageLabel=pgCourseDetails&contentID=SIM001908)
Remember, studying does not just incur financial costs; it also incurs the opportunity cost of salary that you could have earned.
Even though not all lecturers in private universities are flown in from the foreign university partners, you can still expect a certain standard from them as university partners conduct screening of lecturers before they are allowed to teach. At the degree level, lecturers possessing a masters qualification or higher is the norm.
In EASB, almost half of the faculty team is comprised of associate lecturers (or part-timers) (http://www.easb.edu.sg/en/abouteasb/our-lecturers.html), which is mostly the case in private universities. Depending on how you see it, it can be a pro or a con. Part-time professors work full time in the industry and can provide a more practical approach to teaching. Many of them, in fact, teach in local universities as well. SMU has many part-time professors.
In SIM GE, however, lecturers from the university partners (eg. UOL) are flown in near the exam period to do a refresher with students before they head for the dreadful exam hall.
As much as you want to study in university, you also want to live a good life there. Hence the campus location itself is also important. For example, Kaplan has a city campus near Dhoby Ghaut MRT that is over 8000 m2 big, with 44 rooms. (http://www.kaplan.com.sg/student-services/campus-facilities/) EASB’s campus at Balestier is much bigger, of 18,000 sqm in size. It is further away from the city, however, with Toa Payoh being the nearest MRT station. (http://www.easb.edu.sg/en/abouteasb/campus-a-facilities.html)
Campuses of different size and different locations may appeal to different people. In general, we believe that you may prefer a bigger campus, which usually comes with more facilities. However, a bigger campus is also usually further from town, which may make things like job-hunting slightly harder as you need to travel more. However, a campus away from central Singapore is more quiet, with less distractions, so you can be more focused on your studies. The living expenses may also be lower, as you can dine at a community hawker central nearby—great food at a cheaper price.
Most universities have pictures of campus facilities or google 360 maps embedded on their websites. Browse through them to see if they have what you are looking out for. For example, MDIS has a fashion studio catering to students interested in exploring fashion design, and a hospitality training centre teaching students “the etiquette of dining”. But don’t just rely on these stills! Make a field trip down to the very place. And observe the students around you. You will get a general vibe of the campus and know if it suits you or not.
Joining a CCA is an important part of your student life. You may already have an idea of what you want to do outside class, or you may be open to exploration. In either case, you want to make sure that the university has a good selection of clubs. While there are many reasons why a university has more vibrant student activities, in general, you would want to look into one that is more established and has a longer history. Building a club requires initiative from students who decided to do it for the first time. Hence, the longer the history of a university, the more clubs you stand to see it having. For example, AIESEC, a popular international student organization that offers overseas internship and student activities, is available in SIM; it is not available in some other private universities.
Thinking of going to exchange? Yes, you can also do that at a private university. Each private university has partnerships with several overseas universities. Hence, by being a student there, you may already have the passport to study overseas. James Cook University, for example, offers a range of exchange partners, including one in Africa! It also offers financial assistance and loans to needy students who want to have exposure to the world too.
But you still want to have a better understanding of their exchange programs. There may be a few things you want to look out for. Firstly, what are the universities you can go to? Secondly, how easily can one go there? Ask the admission officers for statistics. “Out of 10 students in your school, how many went for exchange?” Lastly, how will you be financing your exchange? Will you pay a local tuition fee or the fee of the overseas university? These are some of the basic questions you may want to ask.
Do you want to go for an environment that is more international or more local? Studying in an international environment may give you more diverse exposure. Some students also raise the point that because some international students do not speak English as their first language, the professors in more international universities usually teach at a slower pace and explain in greater detail, something which you as a local student may also find beneficial. In the case of EASB, 75% of its student population is international. (http://www.easb.edu.sg/en/students/prospective-students/studying-in-easb.html) Conversely, studying in a more local environment may give you more local connections, which you can leverage upon after you graduate. In MDIS, only one-third of its students are from other countries. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management_Development_Institute_of_Singapore)
Since your ultimate goal is to land a good job, the kind of career support you are getting is very important. More established universities have more industry connections. For example, MDIS offers a comprehensive range of career services to its students. It has career workshops dedicated to a range of career issues. It also ties up with employers that need graduates in various fields of studies. Since your ultimate aim is to land a good job, pay more attention to the names of a university’s industrial partners. (http://www.mdis.edu.sg/career-assistance-unit/overview)
Though you need to look at the number of industrial programs they are offering, you also need to take a look at their board of directors. Board of directors usually plays a strong supporting role in the development of the universities. In the case of SIM GE, you will see that its board members come from a diverse range of high-profile backgrounds, such as Boston Consulting Group. It is not surprising they will link up the university to the relevant attachment programs in their fields.
Some statistics may also be helpful. PSB Academy published the figures that it has achieved 95% employment rate and an average graduate takes 3.1 months to land a job according to their survey.
77.6% of MDIS graduates were employed within half a year of their graduation, with the vast majority of them in a full-time position, according to a survey released by CPE in 2017.
In JCU’s 2017 survey results, 13% of graduates found a job before graduation, 23% found jobs within 3 months after graduation, 29% found jobs within 6 months after graduation and 13% took more than 6 months.
Numbers don’t lie and you can get a good sensing of the career prospects.
If you are really serious about your career, while you are making a trip down to the campus, visit their career office. See how well-equipped and well-staffed the office is. Ask the officer about the services available. That is much better than reading their website. Most private universities also hold annual career fairs, so you could look up previous event coverage (or pages) to get an idea of their industry outreach as well.
This might not be common knowledge to most of us but some partner/overseas universities, like the University of Newcastle (Australia), have set up offices/an organisation within Asia to keep their university competitive! UON Singapore, for example, “leverages the University’s excellence in research and innovation by developing mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with the industry, public and private institutions, and the wider community”. Having a presence in Singapore or South East Asia is a testament to a partner university’s commitment towards quality offerings.
Lastly, money matters. While there should not be big variations in private universities’ tuition fee, you do want to understand the different ways by which you can finance your education. Most private universities would tie up with banks to provide interest-free loans. Some offer additional financial assistance and/or scholarships.
For example, EASB has stepped up its effort to offer scholarships to its outstanding students, after setting up a S$10 million scholarship fund in 2009. Taking a closer look at its scholarship section (http://www.easb.edu.sg/en/students/prospective-students/scholarship.html) would make you realise that it offers rather attractive scholarship packages, some of which target at students from particular countries.
PSB Academy is another school that has signficantly ramped up its financial support. The institution has various scholarships (e.g: PSBA-ASEAN Scholarship, PSB Academy Merit Scholarship) to help out those in need.
Taking a scholarship can substantially ease your financial burden and enhance your profile in front of your employers. Hence, if a university offers a scholarship that you believe is within your reach, give it a shot!
You should feel excited about your education in a private university. It is a new chapter in your life, and the final chapter in your student life. But since this is such an important chapter, you want to make sure you are on the right page when the story begins. With an outline above, we are confident that you will find the right place for you!