Higher Education

Where to After Secondary School? – Foundation Programmes as Alternative Pathways After GCE ‘O’ Levels

Foundation programmes have been gaining popularity in Singapore the past decade.

While they used to be offered almost exclusively by overseas institutions with a trans-national higher education agenda, more and more local institutions have come out with their own variation of a foundation programme.

The goal of these programmes are fairly similar. They offer a “through-train” pathway to the education institute, be they a university, polytechnic or institute of technical education.

Foundation programmes are a staple in the private education industry where they function as a bridging programme allowing students to do away with the usual GCE ‘A’ Level or polytechnic diploma requirements previously required for admissions.

Growing Popularity

800 students were placed into the Polytechnic Foundation Programme or PFP in 2012, allowing them to skip Secondary 5 and the GCE ‘O’ Levels, enrolling into a practice-oriented curriculum that by polytechnic lecturers instead.

These foundation pathways have been so popular, the proportion of students moving on to Secondary 5 has fallen from 70% to 50% since its launch.

The Private Education Route

But a polytechnic education is ultimately still more focused on skill development and some might feel that a degree would provide better opportunities and lead to brighter job prospects.

For this group of people, they would be better served by the foundation programmes offered directly by overseas universities such as James Cook University or by a private education institution like PSB Academy, Kaplan Singapore or the Singapore Institute of Management to name a few.

Ranging between 8 – 12 months long or 15 months in the case of SIM’s Diploma in Management Studies, these programmes are specifically tailored to prepare students to meet the demands of the undergraduate programmes offered by the institution.

The tailoring of the curriculum allows for the drastic reduction in the time it takes to graduate with a degree, giving graduates the added advantage of having speed to market.

Of course, one of the biggest draws of such programmes are that it gives students who failed to make the cut to Junior Colleges and Polytechnics a route towards university.

One could argue that you can enroll into the Institute for Technical Education, move on to a polytechnic then to one of the autonomous universities in Singapore. But that would take many more years and there’s the chance of burnout.

Pros of a Private Education Institution

Private EducationJunior CollegePolytechnic
32 – 36 months on average (including foundation programme)60 – 72 months depending on degree72 months on average but might be shorter if eligible for credit exemptions

Private education institutes provide a pathway to university that takes about 32 – 36 months, the JC route would take about 60 – 72 months depending on your choice of degree and the polytechnic route would take around 72 months but the duration may vary depending on whether you get credit exemptions.

What this basically means is that you can get a head start on getting into the workforce and getting paid.

Cons of a Private Education Institution

The foundation programmes offered by private education institutions do come with downsides. Unlike in polytechnic or junior college, you cannot choose a subject combination or area of study. These programmes are often designed specifically to meet the requirements of the undergraduate programmes offered by a university.

Private education institutes are mostly profit driven entities so their fees will definitely be much higher than that of public education institutes that also offer subsidized tuition fees for Singaporeans.

The final disadvantage is that these foundation programmes are similar to the ‘A’ levels in that it’s not a terminal programme. By that I mean it’s not something you can complete and use to get a job. It’s a bridge to a university degree.