College's EduTrust request rejected

SINGAPORE - A Singapore-founded private college with international branches has failed in its attempt to get back certification that would enable it to recruit foreign students, and now faces an uncertain future after losing half its students in a year.

AEC College, which has campuses in five other countries, had its EduTrust certification suspended for six months by the Council for Private Education (CPE) last August after the government statutory board found it had not kept to required standards.

CPE, which regulates the private education sector, cited the discovery of several lapses, such as the way students were selected and admitted.

The college's chief financial officer, Mr Lim Boon Kwong, confirmed on Wednesday that AEC had applied to reinstate its EduTrust certification in November, but was told two weeks ago it had failed.

This was even though it had conducted a management and procedural overhaul to address the lapses highlighted by CPE, said Mr Lim.

"Following the suspension, we restructured the whole company, changed the whole management team and made sure everything is in full compliance with EduTrust requirements," he said. "But now, they say they don't see enough evidence of the changes... It is very disheartening."

When contacted, a CPE spokesman said "the new systems and processes that AEC College had formulated have not been adequately deployed and are not in full compliance with requirements".

CPE did not provide details of specific shortcomings. AEC can apply for EduTrust again, but the school has not yet decided to do so. To obtain a student pass in Singapore, a foreign student must apply for education in an EduTrust-certified school.

Without the mark, AEC is struggling to get by, having relied heavily on foreign students since its founding here in 1985. Currently, only 43 of its 414 students are local, and the total number is a drastic 50 per cent drop from last year's 800 students.

Mr Lim said the college expects a further dip in student numbers to between 200 and 300 by the end of the year, which would mean the school will have to downsize its school space "by a lot".

AEC may cut its 30,000 sq ft premises on Jalan Bukit Merah by two-thirds or relocate, and try to boost its local student population.

This is not the first time the school has come under the scrutiny of regulators. In 2012, The Straits Times reported that CPE was probing how more than 30 foreign AEC students midway through a master's programme were told they had failed a compulsory English entrance test a year after taking it, and after paying thousands of dollars in course fees.

There are 109 EduTrust-certified private education institutions out of 323 registered under CPE.

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