By Veena Bharwani
WASTE of effort? No way.
That was the reaction of Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) president Yeo Guat Kwang to the announcement in Parliament yesterday that a new body will take over from the consumer watchdog in helping out private students.
Referring to its CaseTrust for Education scheme, Mr Yeo said: 'It hasn't been a waste of effort on our part.
'We have no regrets getting involved as we have managed to help many students when there was no other scheme available to help protect students as consumers and help them to recover their fees.'
Since 2004, Case has been actively involved in accrediting private schools through the scheme. Under it, schools are supposed to deposit fees paid to them with an approved bank or to protect the fees with insurance.
Under the Private Education Bill which was passed in Parliament yesterday , the Council of Private Education (CPE) - which will comprise a chairman and between five and 17 members to be appointed by the Minister for Education - will take over as watchdog of the private education sector.
In addition, there will also be the voluntary EduTrust Certification Scheme which will replace CaseTrust for Education, Senior Minister of State for Education S Iswaran told Parliament.
Though Mr Yeo has no regrets, one thing bothers him - people questioning the effectiveness of its accreditation scheme.
CaseTrust for Education was in the news after the closure of Brookes Business School earlier this year.
The school, which had CaseTrust accreditation before it was expelled from the scheme in July, has been accused of allegedly peddling fake degrees from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
He said: 'My colleagues worked tirelessly to make CaseTrust work. Till today, I still get people pointing fingers at us blaming us for coming up with something insufficient.
'But people forget that we stepped in to protect students' fees when there was no one else.'
He added that while CaseTrust had stepped up checks on private education organisations, Case's purview actually does not extend to academic excellence.
Mr Yeo added that he was glad that the CPE will take over.
He said: 'I am not upset that we will no longer be involved. We have been asking for a regulated framework to replace this current self-regulated framework in private education for years.'
He added: 'We have seen the private education sector grow too fast and it is not sufficient for a consumer body to look after the interests of students.'
Mr Iswaran, who is also Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, told Parliament: 'The exponential growth of the sector has resulted in a highly uneven spread of academic and governance standards amongst the private education institutions.
'Some were found to have engaged in dubious or unscrupulous practices, which have adversely affected Singapore's reputation. In the last few years, the closures of a few PEIs (private educational institutions) have also left their students stranded.
'It is therefore in the interest of all stakeholders that we tighten up standards and accountability under a new regulatory framework which will stand for quality and reliability.'
How new bill protects private school students
Council for Private Education (CPE)
WHY: To check on private educational institutions (PEIs)
ROLE 1: In charge of registration, quality assurance certification and investigations and enforcement action against errant PEIs
ROLE 2: Promote consumer awareness and provide student services. Students can also turn to it for help.
Compulsory Enhanced Registration Framework
- PEIs need CPE approval before they can be registered.
- Registration status will have a specified validity period to be determined by the CPE.
- PEIs will have 18 months from the time bill is passed to register.
- PEIs must ensure that teachers have the relevant qualifications and experience.
- PEIs must get CPE's permission to offer courses, failure to do so will constitute a criminal offence.
- The Bill empowers the CPE to direct PEIs to issue refund of fees paid by students should the PEIs fail to deliver courses which the students have enrolled in.
EduTrust Certification Scheme
The EduTrust scheme is a quality mark and is voluntary.
It differs from CaseTrust in two important ways. First, it sets higher standards. Second, its coverage is wider.
EduTrust imposes additional requirements in academic, financial and administration processes; student welfare matters; and partnerships with external recruitment agents.
EduTrust also protects the fees of the local students. CaseTrust covered only international students.
Making the scheme voluntary allows better PEIs a mechanism to differentiate themselves based on quality.
NUMBER OF PRIVATE SCHOOLS REGISTERED WITH MOE:
In 2008, there were about 120,000 students enrolled in these private schools, said
Senior Minister of State for Education SIswaran. 45,000 of these students were from overseas.
This article was first published in The New Paper.