Differences in Singaporean Higher Education

The purpose of this blog is to compare the differences between a top-ranked Singaporean university and a top-ranked Indonesian university. For context, at the time of writing, I am a Computer Science student from Universitas Indonesia (ranked #1 for CS in Indonesia). However, for the current (sixth) semester, I am taking a student exchange at the National University of Singapore (ranked #1 for CS in Singapore, and #6 globally).

Also for brevity, Universitas Indonesia will be shortened to UI and the National University of Singapore will be shortened to NUS.

Do note, that I am severely biased as my experience in both of these universities is nowhere near equal. In Indonesia, I spent 5 semesters while taking multiple, mandatory, and difficult courses. While in Singapore, I will only be spending 1 semester and taking mostly fluff or easy modules, if you will. Regardless, I think that I am still somewhat qualified to notice the differences and share them here.

Course Selection

First, let’s start with the prerequisites. What needs to be prepared before actually studying at either university? Well, you need to take courses, duh! At UI, you go to what’s called a siak war. It’s basically a barbaric process where students have to compete with their swiftness and agility to ensure securing their preferred classes. That is, of course, assuming the UI admins decide not to randomly kick you from a class for “rebalancing” reasons. This happens around 2 weeks before the semester starts at 9 or 10 AM depending on the faculty.

Throughout my 5 semester tenure at UI, I don’t believe I have lost a single siak war. This is due to diligent planning (preparing courses and their backups), motoric skills, and friendship! Most students around the center of the bell curve (lol pretentious) would assume that using a bot would be the most secure way of getting a spot. However, I can tell you that it is absolutely not the case. I have tried using a bot while doing it manually and let me tell you that manual labor is more successful than automation.

Of course, you can argue that my bot is simply inferior to others and that other people’s bots have a better success rate. And to that I say… I don’t care! I won each war regardless of it.

The key to succeeding siak war manually is by practicing often. Utilize keybinds to quickly change the ctrl + f command so you don’t have to scroll manually. Other than that, you just need a stable internet connection so you can check the website uninterrupted. Having friends who tell you if the website is already accessible or not also helps!

Now, what does the process look like at NUS? Well, I don’t know! I already picked out my course way before actual NUS students actually picked them. This is to ensure that we, exchange students (peasants), are actually able to take courses. So, I can’t really tell you much there. However, I can tell you that NUS students typically can underload or overload their modules. At UI, you can only take a maximum of 24 credits per semester, regardless of your grade. Meanwhile, at NUS, you can take 32!

Also, NUS allows their students to appeal their course selection. This means that after the war if they feel unsatisfied, they can ask for an appeal to better accommodate them. This includes adding more courses, removing courses, or swapping them. At UI, if I recall correctly if the selection is already approved by your academic advisor, then there’s no way of going back.


Sleeping is an important aspect of a student’s success. Regardless, CS students tend to lack sleep often because they are staying up all night doing assignments. This seems paradoxical.

Anyway, I digress, accommodation at UI is fairly straightforward. There aren’t many dorms in UI (in fact there’s just one) and they are somewhat selective. I heard that they are prioritized for students outside of Java, but I can’t confirm this. Staying there is relatively cheap, however. But, they have very strict curfews and rules that may make life just a tad bit difficult.

As an alternative, there is a plethora of private but affordable accommodation provided near the university. This is the type of accommodation that I took. It’s real nice!

Now, accommodation at NUS is slightly different. Instead of private accommodations, students much prefer NUS-subsidized dorms because they are much cheaper and are generally more lively.

For example, I (my dad) paid around 2000 SGD to stay at a nice dorm on campus for the entire semester. This means it’s about 400 SGD per month for rent. In contrast to private accommodation outside of NUS, which could cost 1000 SGD or more per month, this is a no-brainer.

It is no wonder, that many NUS students are competing against other students to be active so they can reserve their spot in the dorm for the next semester (this is called senior retention). Because in NUS, you are only guaranteed to stay in the dorm for the first 2 years. After that, you either get recommended by other people to reserve your spot or you get kicked out. Ouch!


So, assuming that one does have courses to take, how can they get to their classes? At UI, if you live quite far from campus, you can take the train which comfortably drops you at the campus’ station. However, this doesn’t mean that your journey is over. Actually, you need to either walk a bazillion kilometers in the scorching sun to your class, use the campus bus, or you can use a ride-hailing app to travel there.

As someone who lives very near my campus, I, of course, chose the most comfortable option which is to use a ride-hailing app. Don’t judge me, the route from my place to campus requires you to walk up a bridge so high, that it’s literally called the abortion bridge. It is said that many young women miscarry their children due to walking up these stairs (don’t quote me on this). Regardless, I ain’t walking up these stairs at 7.55 AM when I have class at 8 AM yo!

At NUS however, public transportation is more encouraged. This is due to the ABYSSMAL costs of ride hailing apps there. So, people either take the bus (which occurs much more frequently than UI buses) to campus or just walk. If you live outside of campus, you can take the comfortably-placed MRT (Kent Ridge) station and take the bus from there.

I love traveling in Singapore. Everything is so connected that it makes public transportation enjoyable. This is vastly different from the Indonesian car-centric culture that we still sadly implement. Perhaps the only downside is that I sweat a lot in Singapore which is not ideal when you are going to class.


Surprisingly, I didn’t feel that NUS students were that much brighter than UI students. I mean yes, you can find more exceptionally talented people at NUS than at UI. I believe it’s because the facilities provided in NUS are much better and hence students are given more opportunities to grow.

But for the most part, average UI students tend to be just as smart as average NUS students. How do I know this? Well, I observed from my test scores and also how diligent these students are on group projects.

In my midterms, I got around the median for all of my classes with about a half-assed effort. I felt like since the grades weren’t going to be converted back into UI, all I had to do was make sure I passed the courses. So I didn’t try hard as much as I did in UI. Despite that, I still got the median grade which means that with more effort I could probably get upper quartile. Or maybe since I’m taking introductory courses, it wasn’t really a fair comparison.

For group projects, we had to build an ML model for this AI & DS course. I kid you not, we only started like 2 days before the deadline and we were given a month or two to finish it. Granted, I didn’t actively remind the students to work on the project. But, I thought that they themselves would take the initiative since grades matter for them. In any case, we finished the project and it was OK lah.

I am still yet to receive my final grade, but I expect it to be around the same results as the midterm. In any case, I feel like the main difference in why NUS students tend to be more successful (work better jobs, go to better universities for postgrad, etc.) is because of the support that they receive from NUS. The students themselves aren’t that much of a difference. But the environment and facilities they receive throughout their 4-year stay are definitely more advantageous than what UI students have.

In fact, I spoke to some Indonesian NUS students and they told me that getting to UI is much harder than getting to NUS. I thought they were being sarcastic at first, but it seems to be the case. They told me that if you received an education in Singapore, getting to NUS or NTU is much easier than getting to UI through SBMPTN (re: SBMPTN is like the national university entrance examination. Like Gaokao in China or SAT in America).

Societal Norms

I’ve noticed that Singaporeans tend to be more lax when it comes to how they present themselves to class. They wear sandals, knee-length pants, and t-shirts, sometimes even exposing their upper arms completely (applies to boys and girls).

This came as a shocker to me, since at UI you generally wear long pants and shoes. Exclusively in the faculty of computer science, you can also wear T-shirts but in other faculties, you generally wear a shirt or something with a long sleeve. Girls are even more strict, typically for religious reasons.

Another thing I noticed is how Singaporeans address their professors. It is common to see students refer to them only by their first name. Of course, I myself and many students still prefer to use “Prof.” when addressing them but the fact that you can, and not be scolded is new to me.

NUS professors are also somewhat more approachable than my professors at UI. This is purely from my observation, but I think seniority plays a big part in how we treat others and how we expect to be treated.

I think at UI and in Indonesia in general, once you reach a certain position/age, you command some level of respect that is demanded from anyone lower/younger than you. Nothing wrong with this I suppose, they have worked hard to get where they are today. But it’s just funny to see an old, successful, and obviously wealthy professor being called by their first name by an undergrad. Rarely can you get away with that in Indonesia. 😅🙏


Today, education is so widespread that you can learn pretty much anything online. Even universities themselves have started to make their courses open to the public through MOOCs.

The relevancy of universities today is mainly through the prestige they give and the network of alumni which can help your future career or academic prospects.

That isn’t to say that college is not worth it anymore. For many people, going to a top-ranked school is their only option to move up the income class. I believe there’s data to support this but I’m not writing a research paper right now so you can look it up yourself :)

Oh, and the people you meet in college are pretty cool too. The type of people you are friends with for a lifetime with kind of friends. Cheers!