By Sandra Davie
IT WAS bad enough finding out that the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA) course they were enrolled in had lost its accreditation.
Now, the 270 affected Shines College students have been thrown into further confusion.
The private school in Upper Boon Keng Road has told them, never mind that the American university had lost its accreditation, they can still stay on the business degree programme until 2011 and graduate with a UNVA degree. Those who want out will be allowed to transfer to another course or school. But among their transfer options is yet another unaccredited university course run by Shines - from the Swiss-based European University.
UNVA lost its accreditation with the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) in the United States on Aug 6, which led to Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) revoking its approval last week.
The ministry, though, has not revoked its approval for European University courses, which Straits Times checks also found to be unaccredited.
Checks with Swissnex, an arm of the Swiss Embassy here that offers advice on Swiss education, showed it was 'certified' by two cantons that do not require checks on academic quality.
Dr Suzanne Hraba-Renevey, executive director of Swissnex, told The Straits Times: 'This certification is based on the cantonal law regarding private institutions, which stipulates that the institution has to follow elementary rules of public order, ethics and hygiene, not academic quality.'
She added that bona fide Swiss institutions are accredited by the Centre of Accreditation and Quality Assurance of the Swiss Universities (OAQ).
The two dozen Indian, Chinese and Korean Shines College students who spoke to The Straits Times said they are at a loss on what to do next.
A South Korean student, who paid $25,000 in fees to Shines, said: 'It's very confusing. On one hand, MOE has taken away approval for the UNVA course but the school is still running the programme until 2011.
'I am thinking of transferring to European University, but the Swiss Embassy made it very clear it has no academic accreditation. Now, I don't know which way to turn.'
The majority of students who spoke to The Straits Times have decided to transfer out of the UNVA course and Shines College altogether.
The school comes under the CaseTrust for Education scheme, which means that students' fees are protected, but many students are concerned if any part of their fees will be refunded and if they will be able to find another programme to take them in.
Ms Karen Kaylor, director of the United States Education Information Centre in Singapore, said the students who want to transfer to other American university degree courses are unlikely to get credit exemptions. She explained that UNVA's accrediting body, ACICS, is not one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the US, which are known to apply more stringent and broader criteria when doing quality checks on university programmes.
Shines College declined to say how many students have asked for a transfer so far, but said its 'top-most priority' has always been student welfare. It said it will assist students who want to transfer out, but added that 'student course withdrawal will be governed by the terms and conditions of the student contract'.
One Shines College student who has decided to continue with the UNVA programme said she was staying on because she doubts she will be able to gain admission into any other degree programme. The China national said in Mandarin: 'I am hoping that when I go back home, no one will know that UNVA is unaccredited.'
The 21-year-old, who has a Singaporean boyfriend, added: 'Maybe I will get married and stay on in Singapore and I won't have to work. So, no problem.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 24, 2008.
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