By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer
A PRIVATE school here will soon get news that it can no longer offer University of Northern Virginia degree courses, a move that is expected to affect 270 students, mainly foreigners.
An Education Ministry spokesman said the MOE was revoking its approval as the university is no longer accredited with the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) in the United States.
The school, Shines College, has been offering the courses on its premises in a former government school building in Upper Boon Keng Road.
The university lost its accreditation, a mark of academic quality, on Aug 6, but Shines College officials told The Straits Times yesterday that they were only aware of this on Sept 4 when an MOE official contacted them.
Its director, Mr Dennis Tan, said he will look into transferring the 270 students, who had paid $18,000 in fees each, to other degree programmes, once he has been notified by MOE.
But the school might have another problem on its hands. Straits Times checks showed that it has another 200 students enrolled in three degree courses offered by the Switzerland-based European University.
Shines College said on its website that the university has 'accreditation' from two cantons in Switzerland. But checks with Swissnex, an arm of the Swiss Embassy here that offers advice on Swiss education, showed it is 'certified' by two cantons, which do not require checks on academic quality.
Dr Suzanne Hraba-Renevey, executive director of Swissnex, said: 'It is based on the cantonal law regarding private institutions, which stipulates that the institution has to follow elementary rules of public order, ethics and hygiene, not academic quality.'
She added that bona fide federal Swiss institutions are accredited by the Centre of Accreditation and Quality Assurance of the Swiss Universities (OAQ).
Asked to respond, the school officials maintained that they understood the certification from the cantons to mean 'accreditation' of the academic quality. They also pointed to MOE's approval of the European University courses.
The issue of private schools offering dubious programmes has surfaced time and again, with educators and students calling for more stringent checks on academic standards.
As was the case with students in trouble in the past, Shines College students said they took the school's CaseTrust for Education mark and MOE's endorsement of its courses as attesting to the quality of the degrees.
Shines College has the CaseTrust mark indicating that it meets minimum standards as an education provider. Being MOE-registered also means that it offers courses from bona fide universities.
Said a 21-year-old Vietnamese student: 'The Singapore Government is known to be above-board and trustworthy, so naturally I thought they would have checked before registering the school's courses.'
Responding, an MOE spokesman said: 'Registration by MOE does not in any way represent an endorsement or accreditation of the quality of programmes offered.' But given that the University of Northern Virginia has lost its accreditation, MOE will 'repeal' its approval.
The ministry was also asked why it had allowed another private school, the Centre for Professional Studies (CPS), to offer courses from the unaccredited Preston University. The university was in the news recently after it objected to Straits Times reports highlighting its lack of credentials.
MOE said CPS had presented Preston University's accreditation with the higher education commission in Pakistan, which it approved.
A check with the Pakistan High Commission here found that the university was given the charter by only two provinces in Pakistan. But Punjab province has refused to grant it a charter and wants its 'illegal' campuses out from the province.
A CPS director, Dr Jurgen Rudolph, said the school had stopped advertising Preston University courses from 2003.
The private education sector can expect change next year, with a new Edutrust scheme to ensure schools meet basic quality standards, the MOE announced early this year.
An independent council to decide on applications for registration and certification, as well as action to be taken against errant schools, will be set up.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 11, 2008.
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