By Leow Si Wan
THE Raffles Design Institute (RDI) in Bangkok, owned by Singapore's Raffles Education Corporation, has run into trouble with the Thai authorities.
The country's Higher Education Commission (HEC) said yesterday evening that the school was operating without its permission and it has taken action against it.
In an interview with The Straits Times, the HEC's secretary-general, Mr Sumeth Yamnoon, said: 'The school was told to stop operating in November because it did not register with the HEC and did not submit the proposals according to our regulations.
'We sued it because it did not stop operations when we told it to last year.'
Degrees obtained from RDI, he added, will not be recognised by the Thai authorities, although the students can pursue their studies in other universities in Thailand or overseas.
RDI Bangkok is a unit of Raffles Education Corporation, which is listed on the mainboard of the Singapore Exchange and is headquartered in Singapore.
The institute - which has close to 400 students - awards diplomas and distance degree programmes from the Sydney-based Raffles College of Design and Commerce.
The Straits Times contacted the HEC after media reports surfaced in Thailand that RDI and another school, the Academia Italiana Fashion and Design Institute, were operating without approval from the authorities.
The reports said criminal proceedings had been launched against the schools for their failure to cooperate.
They said the schools faced a fine of up to 500,000 baht (S$21,630) and/or a jail sentence of up to one year.
When contacted yesterday, a spokesman for RDI Bangkok confirmed the reports, but said the problems were the result of a misunderstanding.
The school, he said, had obtained the necessary licences to operate in Thailand.
He added that RDI Bangkok had seen itself not as a university, but as a distance-learning provider offering foreign degrees.
He said RDI Bangkok is licensed as a vocational technical institute. It was unaware it had to comply with rules governing institutions that offer Thai degrees.
The spokesman acknowledged, however, that the school was told last November it did not meet Thai requirements.
'We agreed to stop recruiting new students, but asked for more time to phase out existing students.
'We have also made changes to words which were deemed misleading on our websites,' he said.
The Straits Times understands the school is now in the process of offering options to students to transfer to its Sydney or Singapore campus.
About 30 students in the school are currently in degree programmes and would be affected.
The spokesman added that the school will be meeting the HEC today to clarify matters and to look into ways of resolving the problem.
The issue is the latest in a series of problems faced by former market darling Raffles Education, headed by chief executive Chew Hua Seng.
An investment in education firm Oriental Century turned sour last year after Oriental's chief executive officer admitted to cooking the books for several years.
Raffles Education had to significantly write down the value of the investment.
It has seen its share price dip in recent years. The stock rose half a cent to 33 cents yesterday, but its market value of about $866 million yesterday is about one-fifth its value of around $4.4 billion in November 2007.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Kwok
This article was first published in The Straits Times.