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Why do your PhD in Singapore?

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

As with all periods of study abroad, becoming a PhD student in Singapore will enable you to gain new perspectives, develop new skills and benefit from new social and cultural interactions. Postgraduate courses in Singapore are taught in English which, as the mother tongue of most Singaporeans, is widely used. Singapore provides an excellent research environment: world-class PhD education at top-ranked universities and research institutes (including 2 of its 5 publicly funded universities in the world top 100 institutions), an international research community, world-renowned academics and state-of-the-art facilities in public and university labs. Scholarships opportunities are also available to international research students as are opportunities to work in Singapore after graduation.

University system in Singapore

For a country of its size, the Singaporean Higher Education landscape is incredibly varied, including local universities and foreign institutions. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is the body in charge of higher education in Singapore, although since 2011, private institutions must be registered with the Council for Private Education (CPE) which ensure that educational standards are of the highest quality. The Ministry of Education does not have a list of accredited overseas universities and there is actually no central authority in Singapore which grants recognition for degrees obtained from overseas universities. It is therefore recommended that students check whether the institution is a bona fide educational establishment, through the relevant authorities of the institution’s country of origin. Similarly, it is advisable to ensure that degrees from overseas institutions in professional areas such as Engineering will be recognised by the appropriate professional body.

Postgraduate study is referred simply as “Graduate Study”, taught Masters and professional doctorates being referred to as “Graduate Studies by Coursework” while Masters by Research and PhDs are referred to as “Graduate Studies by Research”.

Local Universities

Singapore has 6 local universities (5 public and 1 private), offering doctoral study opportunities:

  • National University of Singapore (NUS)
  • Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
  • Singapore Management University (SMU)
  • Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
  • Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
  • SIM University (private comprehensive institution)

Foreign institutions

In addition to local universities, many of the world's leading foreign universities are offering graduate programmes in Singapore, either on their own or by collaboration with local universities (which will be the awarding institutions).

Research Institutes (RIs) in Singapore

The Research Institutes in Singapore offer postgraduate research programmes but do not have degree-awarding powers. Their programmes, mostly in science and engineering, are delivered in collaboration with local universities (which will be the awarding institutions). These include laboratories of the national Agency for Science, Technology and Research (known as A*STAR).

PhD in Singapore

Image Credits (top-bottom): Andrew Reid Wildman; Arian Zwegers; McKay Savage; Prashant Ram.


PhD Tuition fees and miscellaneous fees

The currency of Singapore is the Singaporean Dollar (S$). Fees for PhD study are made up of several components:

  • Application fee (not all universities charge this): S$15-40
  • Matriculation fee (one-time only): approx S$50
  • Full PhD Tuition fees (per annum): S$22,000-30,000 (depending on the institution and subject area; PhDs in medicine, dentistry and nursing may carry considerably higher tuition fees)
  • Amenities fees (per annum): S$10-20
  • Computer fees (per annum): S$10-20
  • Health Insurance (per annum): varies depending on institution and scheme
  • Exam fee (one-time fee): S$200-500

Tuition Fee Subsidy and Service Obligation

The Singaporean Ministry of Education (MoE) offers a tuition fee subsidy to all students, including international students, at local universities. This subsidy is offered to self-funded students who are registering to undertake an MoE-subsidised programme. This is not open to students who receive Singaporean scholarships or funding from their home Government. Not all programmes are eligible for the subsidy and these are selected on the basis of the needs of the labour market. Individual universities also have the authority to decide which programmes can benefit from an MoE subsidy so check the university’s website carefully. The subsidy amount for overseas students ranges from S$5,000-S$40,000 depending on the subject area. Although attractive financially, this subsidy carries a “Service Obligation” (SO) whereby the student is required to work for 3 years in Singapore-based companies upon graduation. The duration of the service obligation is fixed at 3 years, regardless of the duration of study at subsidised rates. So make sure you understand the terms of the SO and that you have long-term plans to live and work in Singapore.

Overseas Institutions

Some of the overseas institutions offering PhD degrees in Singapore have different fee structures ranging from no fees (and stipend in tow), for example at the French Business School INSEAD, to higher tuition fees to those of local universities.

PhD Scholarships and Financial Assistance

Financial assistance for graduate students is also available in the form of scholarships from universities and from external agencies. Graduate scholarships all have eligibility criteria, are highly competitive and are generally awarded on the basis of academic excellence. Scholarships will often cover tuition fees and a monthly stipend as well as research costs. Examples include:

  • NUS Research Scholarships is awarded to deserving graduates for research leading to a higher degree at the University.
  • ASEAN Foundation Research Scholarship (for ASEAN nationals, i.e. from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam)
  • A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (for Singaporeans, Singapore permanent-residents and ASEAN nationals)
  • DSO PhD Research Award(for Singapore citizens only)
  • Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA) in association with A*STAR, NUS and NTU
  • Tuition Fee Allowance from Universities

Other forms of financial aid which are available include study loans and part-time appointments as Graduate Student Tutor or Student Researcher. If you wish to undertake part-time work at your institution or externally, make sure that your visa allows you to undertake paid work (see Visa/Immigration section) and that the institution where you are doing your PhD does not have regulations preventing it.

Graduate students who require financing for their tuition fees (therefore excluding those who receive scholarships, fee subsidies and external funding) may also apply for a loan under the Tuition Fee Loan (TFL) scheme. The maximum loan amount is 90% of the tuition fees payable by Singapore Citizens. These are available from local banks and are applied for through your institution.

Applying and Admissions

Decisions on admission are made by the Faculty/School after careful evaluation of all applications. Evaluation is carried out based on a combination of factors such as academic degree and record, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores and relevant work experience. Other considerations may include the potential for future contributions to the academic or professional fields, research interest of the professors involved in each degree programme and the relevance of the academic preparation for the chosen course of study.

A PhD is Singapore typically takes around 4 years with a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 5 years full-time. Both part-time and full-time options are available for PhD studies. The majority of graduate programmes will admit students twice a year, in August and January, each intake having a specific deadline for application.

Prospective students are not required to contact potential supervisors before applying but it may be advisable to do so if you have a specific research topic you would like to research.

Entry requirements/language

Entry Requirements

Admission into a Ph.D. programme generally requires a good Master’s degree in a relevant discipline, or at least a Second Class Upper Honours degree or equivalent in a relevant discipline. Candidates must also demonstrate readiness for graduate study through specific entry examinations (e.g., the subject GRE, GMAT, GATE), and/or an admissions test or an interview. Achieving the minimum entry requirements is not, in itself, a guarantee of admission, since the number of qualified applicants often exceeds the number of places available.

Language requirements

Students whose native language is not English will need to demonstrate proficiency in English in the form of TOEFL/IELTS as part of the admission criteria. The Malaysian University English Test is also sometimes accepted.

PhD Structure

Doctoral studies tend to be fairly structured at local universities. Successful applicants are admitted as Research Students in the first instance. Year 1 generally includes compulsory courses , on research methods and on subject-specific topics (the number of these courses will depend on the subject and on the University). All PhD students then have to undergo a Qualifying Examination which is based on taught courses held in Year 1 of the PhD. They are then “confirmed” as PhD candidates upon approval from a confirmation panel. Students are expected to complete all of these initial steps within a specific period of time, generally 1.5 years for full-time PhD and up to 2 years for part-time PhD.

The PhD “Defense” is the PhD examination. Once a PhD student has submitted his/her thesis, a date is set for the PhD defense which consists of an open seminar presentation, followed by a close-door oral examination (generally a 3-member panel).

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