More opt for foundation pathway to unis overseas


Education agents say more S'pore students enrolling in such 'through-train' programmes

She completed her N-level exams only last year, but in September, Darwisyah Atnan will be heading to Britain to start an academic programme that should allow her to enrol in university within a year.

The foundation programme offers a "through-train" pathway to university that does away with the A-level or diploma requirements usually needed for admission.

To get into a business degree programme at the University of Birmingham, Darwisyah, 17, is enrolling in a nine-month course at preparatory institution Bellerbys College and taking up related modules such as accounting and finance.

"Getting into university in Singapore, especially a top local university, is quite challenging," said Darwisyah, a CHIJ St Joseph's Convent alumna who would otherwise have taken a Higher Nitec course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) as she prefers a more applied approach in learning.

"I don't have to study other subjects like humanities or science, unlike the O levels."

One of the reasons she is so sure she can make it to a British university there is that Bellerbys College almost guarantees students a place. On its website, it says students will be refunded if they do not receive an offer from a British university but achieved at least 40 per cent in the college exams, among a few other requirements.


The eight-month course is very manageable and more applied in nature, compared to the A levels where I would probably need to sit down and study every day.

MS REGINE CHUA who took a foundation programme in Britain and is now a first-year student at the University of Exeter.

Some parents still pick a university education over skill development, arguing that a degree will improve their children's job prospects.

Agents here said they have been helping more students from Singapore to enrol in foundation programmes in recent years.

Mr Nick Lim, the country manager for AUG Singapore, which represents over 40 foundation institutions in Australia, Britain, the United States, Canada and Amsterdam, said it sent 105 students on such overseas programmes last year, compared with just 28 in 2011.

About 90 per cent of these students are Singaporean.

Most such programmes are just a year long, cutting time spent on an A-level or diploma programme that can take two to three years.

There are even shorter programmes of between six and nine months, said education agent David Few of Jack Study Abroad.

These programmes are usually offered by universities or private operators.

Students whose pre-university grades fail to make the cut for higher-ranked universities abroad are among those who join them as it gives them a second chance.

Mr Mark Chua, director of Global Study Abroad, said he has seen a 10 to 15 per cent growth in the number of Singaporeans heading to foundation programmes in Britain, the US and New Zealand over the last two years.

There has also been a 20 per cent increase in inquiries from N-level and ITE students looking for overseas options, he added.

Mr Few, a senior business development director, said students can usually gain entry to good universities in Britain and Australia.

These universities are in the top 20 per cent of international rankings, though top universities like Oxford or Cambridge usually do not accept students from foundation programmes.

A handful of local institutions, such as James Cook University and SIM Global Education, also offer similar pre-university foundation programmes, but only for students with O-level passes.

At SIM Global Education, students who complete the programme can gain guaranteed entry to degree programmes offered by the institution.

Overseas programmes can be expensive. They can cost from $19,000 to $36,000, excluding living costs of $12,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on the country of choice. This is separate from the tuition fees and living expenses over the course of three to four years at university.

But Ms Regine Chua, 18, said she made the right decision to pursue the eight-month foundation programme in Britain. She had heard stories of students who had to repeat their A levels, and was not sure if she could do well enough to enter a good university.

Now a first-year student at the University of Exeter, she said it prepared her for the combined honours degree in psychology and criminology that she is taking .

"The eight-month course is very manageable and more applied in nature, compared to the A levels where I would probably need to sit down and study every day."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'More opt for foundation pathway to unis overseas'. Print Edition | Subscribe