Training, job, PR status...all lies
More foreign students complain of false promises by recruiters. -ST
By Mavis Toh
An advertisement in a Sri Lankan newspaper caught Mr Rohan Rubera's eye. In bold print, it read: 'STUDY & JOB TRAINING'.
It listed six diploma courses run by private schools in Singapore.
Mr Rohan, 45, called the telephone number listed.
A recruitment agent told him if he signed up for a six-month casino management course in Singapore, priced at $8,000, it would come guaranteed with a six-month training stint with pay in a casino on board a cruise liner.
He paid the agent an initial $4,000, half the fees.
But when he arrived here last October, not only was he told there would be no hands-on casino training, he was also made to share a three-bedroom flat with 17 others.
'At that point, I knew I had been fooled. I was furious,' he said.
He is not alone. The Sri Lanka High Commission has seen at least 100 of its nationals, here on student visas, lodging complaints with it in the last six months.
At the Chinese Embassy, at least 20 students have asked for help each month in the past three years.
Last year, it was reported that 13 Vietnamese students each paid $9,600 to their agents for 'work and study' visas, only to find that the law bars them from working in Singapore. The agent put up all 13 students in a small room.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 20 complaints against education agents last year, up from five in 2007 and eight in 2006.
Most of the complaints accused agents of misrepresentation and of misleading claims, such as getting the wrong courses and being told they could work and study here.
Some were even told they could get permanent residency status.
New guidelines in the Private Education Bill to be introduced in Parliament later this year will tighten regulation of the industry here.
The new rules require the 1,200 private schools here to meet certain criteria, including examination boards and information on their finances, teachers and facilities before they can be registered.
There are currently about 99,000 foreign students here.
From The Sunday Times' interviews with affected students, private schools and a former local agent, false promises seem to be the work of rogue agents both here and in the foreign countries.
Last December, the Sri Lanka High Commission here even placed ads in major Sri Lankan newspapers alerting would-be students to 'false promises' by dodgy agents about student life here.
'Students might want to study here as a stepping stone to get jobs here,' said a Sri Lanka High Commission spokesman. 'But what they were told back home and what they see here are different.'
Some private schools here added that despite the current economic recession, agents at overseas education fairs still boldly guarantee job placement to students. But one principal, who declined to be named, said the students' visas do not allow them to work here.
An academic head of a private school, who declined to be named, said that at some private schools, attendance is only half-full as agents had arranged illegal work for those here on the pretext of studying.
'The schools know they'll lose money if they cancelled the student passes so they kept them on the class list,' he said.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman said some agents in China told would-be students they would be enrolled in private schools in Singapore with big campuses, fields and even laboratories. But on arrival, these students ended up in small private schools with only a few rented classrooms in old buildings.
Embassies believe that the number of victims they see is just the tip of the iceberg. Many students have yet to come forward or are unaware of where they can turn to for help. Others have flown home without seeking refunds.
The Sri Lanka High Commission spokesman said: 'Many came from rural areas where their families pawned jewellery and valuables to send them here. They do not know how to tell their parents they were fooled or how to repay the loans.'
Private schools contacted claim they are unaware of promises made by the agents they worked with.
But one former local agent, Mr Billy Ng, 32, said he quit his job last year as he was unhappy with the school he was working for.
He claimed the school had told agents to tell students they would get attachments at big hotels, earning up to $800 monthly. Most of the mainly Malaysian students, he said, decided to enrol with the school only because they were told they could work and study here.
'But they ended up washing dishes illegally for $200 monthly,' said Mr Ng. 'I couldn't stomach the complaints from the students and their irate parents, so I quit.'
Established private schools want the Government to weed out rogue agents. They also hope that the upcoming Private Education Bill will clean up the industry.
Said Management Development Institute of Singapore's secretary-general R. Theyvendran: 'There's a lot of deception in student recruitment by smaller players. This will tarnish Singapore's reputation as an education hub.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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