Insurance association not fighting 'dud MBA' case

SINGAPORE - An insurance association which was sued for offering an MBA course which later turned out to be unaccredited has decided not to fight the case.

Instead, the Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore (Ifpas) has accepted the district court's ruling issued last week that it pay financial adviser Davy Goh Peng Yang $17,500.

The sum includes $13,500 in fees he had paid in 2004 for the Master of Business Administration course run by Vancouver University, which he later found out was not formally recognised as a university, as well as legal costs.

Mr Goh, 36, had alleged in his suit that Ifpas had failed to conduct proper checks before asking members to sign up for the MBA course it marketed.

"Being a professional association, I thought Ifpas would have done proper checks before asking its members to sign up for the course," he said.

He had asked for his fees to be refunded but Ifpas refused, claiming it was responsible only for marketing the course. It said the programme was run jointly by the Canadian school and CPPD Systems Associates, a firm headed by retired Nanyang Technological University professor B. C. Ghosh.

Mr Goh, who completed the course in 2005, decided to sue in 2011 - the same year The Straits Times published an expose on how about 100 agents from large insurance houses such as Great Eastern had unaccredited MBAs from Vancouver University.

The school reportedly operated for more than a decade despite not having accreditation from the Canadian government.

In 2007, it was served a shut-down order by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Its MBA programme was transferred to International University (IU) in Vienna. But the Austrian Embassy in Singapore later confirmed that IU was not on its list of approved private universities.

Court documents revealed that Ifpas, which has more than 4,000 members, was advised by its lawyers to write to the minister for higher education in British Columbia to check the school's status.

But the minutes of a 2007 meeting showed one of its committee members saying it was best not to do this in case the findings were "unfavourable". He added that if students sued and CPPD went bankrupt, the association would have to bear the full liability.

Ifpas told The Straits Times that it had decided to settle Mr Goh's suit after obtaining legal advice. It said one consideration was the potential legal costs if the matter were to go into trial.

It also noted that the court, in its judgment, allowed the association to claim $17,500 from CPPD.

Asked if it will inform its members of the trial's outcome and advise those holding the dud MBAs to stop using them, Ifpas only said that it will explain its decision to its members and address queries on a case-by-case basis.

Following the Straits Times expose on several agents holding unaccredited MBAs and doctorate degrees from abroad, insurance company AIA sent a letter warning its agents not to use fake credentials.

Mr Goh, who has gone on to complete an MBA course with the National University of Singapore, noted that several insurance agents are still using the unaccredited degrees: "Ifpas should inform its members to stop using the degrees. If it's unaccredited, it means it has not been through proper checks for academic quality. It is a matter of integrity."

sandra@sph.com.sg

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