By Lee U-Wen
SINGAPORE's fast-expanding education sector has had an eventful 2009 and is gearing up to raise its profile further in the coming year.
Despite the uncertain economic climate, Singapore's tertiary education sector grew significantly - rolling out new courses, attracting foreign students and opening world-class campuses - to augment the country's push to be a major education hub.
But it was the private education sector that took centre stage for most of 2009. After years of scrutiny following tales of poor management, sudden closures, bogus degrees and schools leaving students in the lurch, the government acted swiftly to roll out a new Private Education Bill that will weed out the pretenders.
Under the new regulatory framework, to be launched today, private schools will be put through more stringent checks - and face stiffer penalties if they flout the rules.
Registration - voluntary under the old system - will now be mandatory for all private schools. They can also opt for the voluntary EduTrust mark which will assess and categorise them based on their academic quality, student welfare, finances and administrative processes.
Perhaps the most heartening and reassuring part is that students who enrol at registered private schools will enjoy fee protection should the school suddenly close. Schools can choose to limit their collection of fees to a maximum of two months or buy fee insurance protection for their students under an industry-wide scheme.
All these measures will help prevent a repeat of incidents such as the abrupt closure of Brookes Business School, which in July this year was shut down by the Ministry of Education (MOE) after it was exposed for peddling fake degrees and diplomas from Australian and British institutions to hundreds of unsuspecting students.
'The move to have stronger legislation will boost Singapore's standing in the eyes of the international community,' says banker Timothy Chan, 29, who is pursuing a part-time Master of Business Administration at a private school here. 'For too long, many schools operated more as greedy businesses than genuine education providers.'
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