S'pore on list of degree mill countries
Oregon, which has strict laws, names six private institutions here. -ST
By Sandra Davie
DEGREE mills that churn out 'graduates' at the drop of a hat are the sort of dodgy outfits we link with shadier parts of the world, but the problem is a lot closer to home and threatens to harm Singapore's name as an education centre.
Small as it is, the country appears six times on a list compiled by Oregon's Office of Degree Authorisation (ODA).
The American state has strict laws regarding the use of qualifications from unaccredited institutions and those dubbed 'degree mills' or 'degree suppliers'. It requires that a person's business cards, CV and letterhead declare if his degree is from an unaccredited university.
The term - degree or diploma mill - has been used in the United States and around the world to refer to 'substandard or fraudulent colleges that offer potential students degrees with little or no serious work'. They range from those which are simple frauds - an address to which people send money in exchange for a degree - to those that require some nominal work from the student but do not require the college-level study normally required for a degree.
Oregon's laws make its list one of the most comprehensive compiled by a state government body in the United States.
It names six institutions here as offering unaccredited qualifications: Cranston University, Templeton University, Trident University of Technology, Vancouver University Worldwide, Westmore University and Lee Community College.
Names of institutions go on the list if there are queries made by members of the public. Checks are carried out on the status of the university both in the US and with foreign governments before they are put on the list.
Checks by The Straits Times found that Westmore University's website is hosted by a company operating out of Science Park.
Vancouver University Worldwide, which was ordered to be shut by the Canadian government two years ago, had offered its courses here for a few years.
Several insurance industry professionals have MBAs, while some even have doctorates, from the university.
A few Singaporeans were also found to have degrees from Cranston University and Templeton University. Both are listed as online universities, based in Singapore and possibly Nevada.
The Palin School of Arts and Design in Bras Basah lists Trident University of Technology degrees, but Palin officials say that currently they are not offering the degree programme in advertising and design.
ODA's list says Trident was denied approval by the state of Wisconsin and it was never legal in New Jersey as claimed.
But what was surprising was the presence on the list of Lee Community College. The private school has a CaseTrust for Education quality mark and is popular for its diploma courses in counselling and psychology.
The Straits Times found that the school, in Maxwell Road, also offers a degree from the American University for Humanities (AUH), which a staff member said is accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education.
ODA's website has this to say about the American university: 'New name for American University of Hawaii, which was closed by court order. Operations claiming accreditation from The American Academy for Liberal Education in Lebanon do not meet Oregon legal requirements and degrees are not valid here. Degrees issued from Delaware are not valid in Oregon.'
Although the school has been offering degree courses for years, a check with the Ministry of Education (MOE) revealed that Lee Community College is not approved to offer any external degree programmes.
An MOE spokesman said the matter would be investigated.
It warned that new regulations require all private schools to seek permission from the new statutory board, the Council for Private Education (CPE) before offering external degree programmes, including online programmes.
Non-compliance may lead to deregistration of the private school and prosecution of its officials.
Lee Community College's chief executive, Dr Frederick Toke, said the school spent over $100,000 to seek accreditation for the degree programme, which was from the American University for Humanities in Tbilisi, Georgia.
It was accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education, a recognised accrediting agency in the US for liberal arts institutions, but was rejected by the MOE.
Dr Toke did not explain why the school continued to offer the degree despite the MOE rejection. He would only say that the school is now seeking MOE approval to run other degree programmes from the US.
Mr Alan Contreras, the administrator for Oregon's ODA, said Singapore never used to feature on the ODA's list.
'The problem Singapore has is that it opened the door to private post-secondary education without establishing a serious governmental oversight process to make those providers prove that they are legitimate,' he said.
'In effect, your government has allowed its name to be used inappropriately because only government authorised colleges can issue genuine degrees.'
Mr Contreras also warned: 'Without enforcement of standards by the government, anything goes. This is why the reputation of degrees issued in Singapore is falling.'
The MOE said that under the new laws that will come into effect by the end of the year, the Council for Private Education will run checks on these claimed partnerships.
'These measures will help ensure that dubious programmes offered by degree mills will not be permitted by CPE to be offered in Singapore,' said the spokesman.
But the new laws have come too late for a 26-year-old who attended evening classes and did course work for over three years for an AUH degree from Lee Community College.
The administrative manager hopes the new laws for private schools will ensure that only valid degrees are offered here.
'I took up the degree because I was interested in a counselling career. I spent more than $20,000 of my hard-earned money to study for the degree. Now I find out that it is worthless.'
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