Is Singapore’s global schoolhouse dream over?

Photo: Linjunxian /CC BY-SA 4.0

Singapore’s private education system is having a reboot. What are the problems plaguing the system and what new measures are in place to correct it?


There are now only 293 private schools in Singapore. In 2016, 25 private schools closed, and much more are expected to shut down this year as the Committee for Private Education (CPE) continues its crackdown on low-quality private schools.

Is this the end of Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse initiative launched in 2002?

Some private schools closed because of poor financial health

Some of the schools that ceased operations were due to financial losses. New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts in Asia closed in 2012 due to millions of debt. John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at NYU said, “Academically and artistically, the Tisch Asia campus was a tremendous success. But academic excellence is also expensive. We were too optimistic about prospective enrolments both internationally and locally.”

While the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in Asia closed primarily of poor financial health, it also left Singapore with a tarnished reputation. Three former Tisch Asia students have sued NYU for alleged “sub-par” faculty, facilities and equipment compared to their New York counterparts. The suit noted, “In reality, many faculty members at Tisch Asia had either sub-par experience or knowledge to the faculty in New York…At least one teacher was a fresh graduate of Tisch Asia.”

Other schools closed due to weak demand

University of New South Wales closed because of lower than anticipated enrollments. In 2013, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business transferred its prestigious executive education to Hong Kong so that it could be closer to China’s thriving economy.

SAE Creative Media Institute which partnered with Britain’s Middlesex University for its diploma and degree courses has also closed because of rising costs and declining demand for its programs.

CPE was created to regulate the private education system and protect students

The CPE has implemented new measures to protect students better and boost information transparency. One of the steps will require private schools to take part in an annual survey that tracks where their graduates begin their careers. Private Schools that provide degree courses must also get a four-year EduTrust certification which is a quality assurance award.

These quality protection measures will prevent bogus schools from operating. For example, Brookes Business School was found to have offered fake degree courses linked to prestigious institutions.Kings International Business School awarded some students with diplomas in maritime studies without the students having to take exams or even attend lectures.

CPE has imposed a minimum paid-up capital of $100,000 to weed out financially unstable schools.

Singapore’s private school system is rebooting

These new developments in the private education arena do not mean the Singapore’s global schoolhouse dream is over. It is rebooting and focusing on quality. The outlook for the local job scene is not promising, and competition for jobs is intense. CPE is doing the right thing so that they will not contribute to the rising unemployment. Graduates from private schools have a harder time finding jobs after graduation and have lower salaries.

The quality measures will attract only the best private schools to operate in Singapore. These high-quality private schools will evolve in line with current government programs like Skillsfuture. These schools will align their programs with the skills needed for the digital economy, and this will help ensure Singapore has the workforce needed for its next economic transformation.