Personal Finance

Average Cost of Tuition in Singapore 2021

While Singapore has some of the best universities in Asia, the path to receiving a tertiary education is not that easy. The most literate country in the Asia Pacific region with a youth literacy rate of 99.93%, only 37.5% of Singapore's labor force have a university degree. With Singapore's Ministry of Education voicing its push to limit the number of students with a university degree, the question is not only how much will a university degree cost, but whether it is worth it. Below we break down the average tuition cost at Singapore's top universities and examine the value of such a pursuit.

How Is Tuition Calculated

Tuition at Singapore's six publicly funded autonomous universities is broken down into four categories:

  • Subsidized Singapore Citizen
  • Subsidized Permanent Resident
  • Subsidized International
  • Unsubsidized International

Average tuition for Singaporean citizens, which is government subsidized, is on average 24.7% that of unsubsidized average annual tuition, which is what international students tend to be charged. Overall, citizens are charged the lowest annual tuition, which is an average of S$19,517, with most social science programmes at NUS and NTU charging only S$8,200. For most degrees, permanent resident's tuition compared to that of a citizen increases between 40% to 100%, while still being government subsidized. International students, if given the tuition grant, will be charged between an extra 100% to 200% of the subsidized tuition paid by citizens.

Singaporean citizens automatically receive MOE tuition grant, while Singapore Permanent Residents and international students need to apply for the grant after receiving an offer of acceptance from a university. If they get approved, they must sing a Tuition Grant Agreement which obliges them to work in a Singapore entity for 3 years upon graduation. Depending on the annual household income of the family and given the percentage increase in tuition for international students, Singapore's elite universities may be best suited to citizens only.

Average Cost of Tuition in Singapore

Singapore currently has six publicly funded autonomous universities and about 300 private universities. Its six public universities are some of the most competitive universities in Asia, with National University Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ranking in the top 6 in Asia and top 50 in the world, according to Times Higher Education. Below is the 2020/21 AY tuition breakdown for the top two universities.

National University of Singapore Tuition (NUS) 2020/21

ProgrammeSubsidized - SG CitizenSubsidized - SG PRSubsidized- InternationalNon-Subsidized
Arts and Social SciencesS$8,200S$11,500S$ 17,550S$29,850

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Tuition 2020/21

ProgrammeSubsidized - SG CitizenSubsidized - SG PRSubsidized- InternationalNon-Subsidized
All ProgrammesS$8,200S$11,500S$ 17,550S$31,970
BusinessS$9,400S$13,200S$ 20,100S$36,830

With 107,630 students enrolled at universities in Singapore in 2019 (statista), almost 75% are both undergraduate and graduate students (part-time and full-time) at National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Aside from being the two largest public universities, they are also the best in the country and the region with NUS ranked #3 in Asia and #25 in the world, according to Times Higher Education and NTU ranked #6 in Asia and #48 in the world. With NUS having an acceptance rate of 16% and NTU at 25%, the two universities are highly competitive.

Average Cost of Tuition in Singapore by Degree Programme

Since not all of the six public universities offer the same degree programmes, the calculation of average tuition cost per programme only includes those schools which offer the degree. In addition, some universities do not offer certain degrees to international students who did not receive a tuition grant, likely a push to keep those graduates working in Singapore. One such example is Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which does not offer Medical and Engineering degrees to students who did not receive a tuition grant from MOE.

Average Tuition Cost by Programme for AY 2020/21

ProgrammeSubsidized - SG CitizenSubsidized - SG PRSubsidized- InternationalNon-Subsidized

As expected based on the value of the degree on the job market, average annual cost of tuition is highest for a degree in Medicine (excluding nursing) with S$31,800 for Singaporean citizens, followed by engineering with S$15,450 and Business with annual average tuition of S$15,113.

Total Average Tuition Cost by Programme vs Median Salary

Programme3 Year Subsidized Tuition (SG citizens)Average Median Salary

Is Tertiary Education in Singapore Worth It?

The first concern that's important to address is the question of affordability. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, median monthly household income has declined in 2020 by 2.5%, compared to the year before, a first decline since 2009. The median monthly household income in 2020 was S$9,189 ( vs S$9,425 the year before), adding up to a median annual household income of S$110,268.

Given that the average subsidized tuition for a university degree in engineering, being one of the most popular programmes, costs about S$15,450 (or S$1,287.50) it seems reasonable to assume that given the median salary, it is affordable for a household. This tuition, however, is only offered to Singaporean citizens, and becomes progressively less affordable for permanent residents and those without a tuition grant.

Second concern we need to address is the admissions process. While it is not uncommon for elite universities to limit the number of accepted students, or to charge permanent residents and international students tuition that is at least 50% higher than what citizens have to pay, Singapore may just have a different explanation for this trend.

In 2017, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung pointed out at the 47th St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland that the government wants to cap the proportion of graduates to anywhere between 30% and 40%. The reasoning behind this is the need to align Singapore's education system with the needs of the economy. While it is important to point out that this does not affect private universities' acceptance rates, Singapore's public universities are some of the highest ranked in the region and the world.

Minister Ong's view seemed to be that not a university degree is not the path for everyone, and skills rather than degrees should be rewarded. This, however, has not halted a rise in university enrolment. According to statista, full-time university enrolment in Singapore has risen every year between 2010 and 2019, with the most recent enrolment numbers for 2019 being 73,800 full-time students.

MOF's data illustrates a consistent generational increase in highest educational attainment, with generation 1 (born in 1940-1949) only having 7% of the population with university degrees, generation 2 at 10%, generation 3 at 21% and finally generation 4 (born in 1970 - 1979) at 44%. In 2019, 37.5% of Singapore's labor force had a university degree, also the highest proportion in the labor force, compared to just 22.5% in the US that same year, with high school graduates leading at 28.1%.

Share of Labor Force Singapore by education

What does this mean for the future Singapore graduates? It means that the admissions process to its six public universities will likely become even more competitive, naturally causing a decline in university attendance. The question will then become, whether future graduates will decide to attend a private university or to look for university education abroad. As to whether a university is worth it or not largely depends on the student's grades, their intended program of study and more than anything, the financial capabilities to cover the tuition costs.

Zoryana Melesh

Zoryana is a Senior Research Analyst at ValueChampion, who focuses on evaluating credit cards, savings and fixed deposits in Singapore. She holds a BA in Political Science and an MPA in International Finance and Economic Policy, both from Columbia University. Prior to joining ValueChampion, Zoryana worked in treasury management consulting.