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Higher Education

When Singapore became independent in 1965 there was only one university, the University of Singapore. Its predecessor was the University of Malaya which was established in 1949 with the merger of two institutions—The King Edward VII College of Medicine and the Raffles College: which had been established in 1928 for the study of arts and science. In 1958, in anticipation of the grant of full internal self-government to Singapore, two joint committees were appointed to examine the possibility of creating two autonomous organizations respectively for Malaya and Singapore. Accordingly, in 1959, the university was restructured into two autonomous divisions located in Malaya's capital, Kuala Lumpur, and in Singapore. Two years later, the division was formalized. On the New Year's Day in 1962, the University of Singapore was formally launched.

In response to the demands of the Chinese community to retain their culture and tradition, the Nanyang University was established as a private university in 1956. Although a government ordinance of 1959 gave the university a statutory status, its diplomas and degrees fell short of full recognition by the governments of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore for its civil service recruitment. Consequently, the generally success-oriented Singaporeans did not encourage their children to attend Nanyang University. By 1962, however, the government of Singapore, which was then controlled by the People's Action Party (PAP), decided to restore government grants to Nanyang University as a political measure. In the 1960s, the government used the Nanyang University for technological education, and in 1980 it was merged with the University of Singapore. The new entity was called the National University of Singapore.

Since 1965 education at all levels, including higher education, has grown exponentially. In 2000, Singapore had six Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). First, is the National University of Singapore (NUS) regarded as the flag ship of Singapore's educational system. It has 8 faculties, 50 departments, 4 graduate schools (medicine, dentistry, business management, and engineering), and 7 "specialist research institutes" for advanced study and research in areas of "strategic importance to the nation's development." They are:

  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Institute of Micro-Electronics
  • Institute of Systems Science
  • National University Medical Institute
  • Institute of Molecular Agro-Biology
  • Data Storage Institute and the Institute for Materials Engineering and Research

The NUS has also established several centers of excellence and institutes where its faculty is involved in research and development for "specific applications to industry and business." It also runs the National Super-computing Centre for the advancement of Information Technology and computer and computational technology in Singapore. In these endeavors, the university gives a high priority to multi-disciplinary R&D projects, often in collaboration with industry.

The eight faculties are Architecture and Building, Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, Medicine, and Science. All faculties offer courses leading to a bachelor's degree and some have graduate (post-graduate) courses leading to a master's and a doctorate degree. In 1996, the NUS had 37,791 students, of whom 20,507 were males and 17,284 were females, with a teaching faculty of 3,059, of which 2,290 were males and 769 were females.

A large majority of the faculty is highly qualified, holding doctorates from some of the best universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. Most of them feel frustrated over the lack of research environment at the NUS, though most of them are happy that academic rewards and remuneration are not necessarily linked to research and publication. The faculty is also frustrated because, with a few exceptions, the NUS does not provide graduate education, which reduces the NUS faculty to the level of undergraduate teachers.

Some departments have begun to grant master's degrees, but student enrollment is small. Without the challenge of graduate students the faculty feels they are being under-utilized in terms of skills they acquired while working on their doctorates. The NUS does provide financial support for research during the faculty's sabbatical year if it is spent overseas at a major university or research institution. Compared to similarly trained faculty in HEIs in the United States, the research output of the NUS faculty is far from impressive.

Most of the Singapore graduates pursue their graduate work in major universities, notably in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. The Singapore government and people prefer to send students overseas for several reasons. First, they feel the graduates need exposure outside the confines of their small state, which they regard as essential for Singapore's leadership role, regionally and globally. Secondly, there is some justification in their fear that the pursuit of graduate education under the same faculty may promote inbreeding. Thirdly, education abroad offers an opportunity for students to develop contacts in business and industry, which may be found useful later in their careers.

Formerly called the Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was formally granted the status of an independent university on July 1, 1991. The NTI itself was established in 1981 as an engineering institution, which was to have a more practical orientation than the NUS. Located in Yunnan Garden, it has six schools: civil and structural engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and production engineering, communications studies, applied science, and accountancy and business.

The NTI and NUS have a common curriculum for first-year engineering students followed by a three-year course at either institution—depending on the academic standing of the student. NUS gets the superior students. The degree in engineering was, however, awarded to both the NTI and NUS students by the National University of Singapore. During the decade following its establishment, the NTI determined its policies in regards to admission, curriculum, and examination requirements in close consultation with the NUS departments.

The NTI developed collaborative links for research and teaching with local industry as well as with corporations, research institutes, and universities overseas. Regular internship programs were established with several local firms involved in civil, structural, and electronic fields for final year students.

In 1991 the NTI had about 3,000 students and a fairly well qualified faculty. The government decided to transform it into a full-fledged university. The NTU has exchange and collaborative arrangements with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Sloan School of Management and the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (MEL) in Japan.

The National Institute of Education (NIE) was established in 1973. At that time, the Teachers' Training College (TTC), founded in 1950, was the only institution providing teacher-training facilities in Singapore. NIE trained primary school teachers and non graduate secondary school teachers. After 1973, the NIE became a comprehensive teacher-training institution, providing facilities for training preprimary, primary, secondary, and junior college teachers. The institute is located in Bukit Timah. The NIE attracts students from Singapore and the entire Southeast Asian region. The NIE merged with the Institute of Education and the College of Physical Education in 1991. It has four schools: science, arts, education, and physical education.

Since 1991, NIE has offered four-year courses leading either to a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree with a Diploma in Education. It also offers the Postgraduate Diploma in Education programs for university graduates and the two-year Diploma in Education and Diploma in Physical Education programs for holders of GCE "A" level. Additionally, the NIE offers a number of in-service training programs. The postgraduate work in education at the master's and doctorate levels at NIE is rewarded with degrees by the NUS. The high quality and range of research conducted by the NIE is reflected in Research and Evaluation Abstracts for Classroom Teachers (REACT), and numerous other reports. In 1996, NIE had 3,095 students, of whom 857 were males and 2,238 were females. The faculty numbered 420, of whom 204 were males and 216 were females.

There are four major polytechnics in Singapore: Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic, and Nanyang Polytechnic. Ngee Ann was established in 1963. It gives diploma courses in electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, shipbuilding and repair technology, building construction and maintenance, business and computer studies.

Although the Singapore Legislative Council approved Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance in 1954, Singapore Polytechnic did not begin to function until four years later in 1958. It offers two types of technician diplomas awarded after either a three-year or a five-year course. It also has a two-year certificate course. The fields covered are: civil, structural, mechanical and marine engineering, land surveying, architectural draftsmanship, nautical technology, aeronautical maintenance, and many other specialties of practical value to industry. Its students are linked with industrial plants, construction companies, and other businesses for practical training. The Singapore Polytechnic also provides graduate education in land surveying, process plant engineering design, plastics design, industrial management, and maritime studies. Of note is the Polytechnic's Department of Continuing Education, which offers evening classes for full-time workers who would like to obtain higher technical and management skills.

The Temasek Polytechnic was established in April 1990, and the Nanyang Polytechnic in April 1992 to meet the rising demands of industry and students. In 1996, the four polytechnics had a combined enrollment of 51,254 students of whom 29,736 were males and 21,518 were females. The combined strength of the teaching staff was 3,410 of whom 2,272 were males and 1,138 were females.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSingapore - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education