Singapore’s University Landscape

Singaporeans enjoy a wide range of education opportunities in our institutions of higher learning, especially at the university level. Currently, we have achieved a publicly-funded cohort participation rate (CPR)1 of 26%. This means that more than one in four students from each Primary One cohort obtains a place in one of Singapore’s publicly-funded universities. The Government plans to increase the CPR to 30% by 2015.

To meet the expanded intake, MOE has set up several new institutions:

  • Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) for polytechnic upgraders2
  • Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
  • Yale-NUS Liberal Arts College (YNC)
  • Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCSOM) in NTU

At the same time, to grow more pathways for Singaporeans with different abilities and aptitudes, MOE will be funding places for Creative Industry degree programmes by selected foreign institutions who partner our arts institutions. For example, the Royal College of Music will be partnering the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to offer subsidised music degree programmes.

Beyond 2015, there is a need to further develop and expand the university sector, as highlighted by the Prime Minister at the 2011 National Day Rally. Our education system is producing good students, who aspire towards university education. At the same time, our economy is growing in size and sophistication, and will need a larger pool of diversified talent and knowledge workers.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has therefore convened a Committee on University Education Pathways beyond 2015 (CUEP). The Committee will study and recommend ways to expand the university sector, in order to provide more opportunities and pathways for Singaporeans to obtain a university education.

Key Policy Considerations

In considering any expansion of the university sector, the Committee will be guided by several policy considerations.

Consideration 1: Economic Relevance

Any increase in the number of university places will have to be sustainable and supported by the economy. Increasing places too quickly can lead to an over-supply of university graduates, who would then either become unemployed or under-employed. This has been the experience in some countries which have gone for very high CPRs or expanded university places too rapidly.3

Besides the overall increase in places, the mix of these places also matters. There is a need to ensure close alignment between the distribution of places across course disciplines, and the manpower needs of the economy. This will ensure that our graduates enjoy good employment outcomes.

Consideration 2: Quality Education

The Government has always placed great importance on a high quality university education to equip our graduates with the necessary skill sets to seize opportunities. Our existing institutions – the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) are currently internationally recognised. Selecting reputable partners for our new institutions, i.e. SUTD, SIT, YNC and LKCSOM, also help to ensure that they start off with the right quality “peg” and are held to high standards.

Consideration 3: Cost-effectiveness

Cost-effectiveness is also a relevant consideration. Any expansion in university places will require significant government funding. We therefore have to ensure that we get good value from the investment of public resources in this area.

How does our Cohort Participation Rate compare to other countries?

Internationally, there is a wide variance in the publicly-funded university CPRs. Countries weigh their own policy considerations, matched to their models of governance, tax and spending policies, and the historical developmental paths of the higher education sectors.

The publicly-funded CPRs in Asian jurisdictions tend to be fairly low, in the range of 10-20% in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Yet, the number of students who enter universities in these countries is significantly higher, as the private university sector has emerged to meet the additional demand for university places.

The publicly-funded CPRs are generally higher in European countries, exceeding 50% in Nordic countries like Denmark and Finland4. For example, Finland’s publicly-funded CPR of about 70% comprises students entering both its universities and polytechnics. This CPR structure is underpinned by a socialist system of governance where education at all levels is effectively heavily subsidised by Finnish citizens through higher taxes.


  1. The university CPR is the percentage of locals, in a Primary One cohort, who matriculate into publicly-funded full-time undergraduate places at our local institutions.
  2. With the addition of SIT, one in five polytechnic graduates will be able to obtain a degree at local, publicly-funded institutions, compared to about one in seven today.
  3. Some countries have expanded their CPRs by blurring the line between their universities and polytechnics. We have not taken this path in Singapore. Instead, MOE has maintained the polytechnics as distinct and separate institutions from the universities. Our universities and polytechnics play different but complementary roles in equipping Singaporeans with a broad suite of skills to seize different economic opportunities.
  4. Finland has a binary higher education model consisting of universities and polytechnics. The universities focus on theory and research, while the polytechnics – still degree-awarding, but generally not seen as equivalent to a university degree – focus on practical skills and seldom pursue research.