Below is an article on some problematic private schools in Singapore published in the Straits Times.
By Sandra Davie, Education Correspondent
CRAMPED: Punniya Language and Computer Centre in Peace Centre, which said it ran IT courses, had only three computers in one classroom while another had room for only five students. -- ST PHOTO: LEE PEI QI
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WHEN Indian student R. Thevan, 19, was considering coming to Singapore to study, he started by looking at the list of schools that had been screened by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
He was surprised when the first school he looked at on the list, Eastwest Education Centre, also advertised Russian women and a dating service on its website.
He thought Camford Business School's website looked more credible - until he checked the lecturers' credentials.
The academic dean, Mr K.C. Wong, had a degree from Paramount University of Technology in Wyoming, which American media had widely reported as a degree mill which gives out degrees to students who do little or no academic work.
Worse, the school in Yangtze Building in Chinatown offers degree courses from the same university to students.
Said Thevan, who has applied to enrol in the Singapore Institute of Management, one of the top-ranked private schools: 'I was surprised. Singapore is known for being strict and assuring high quality. Why are such schools even allowed to exist?'
What the teenager uncovered was only the tip of the iceberg.
A Straits Times random check on the list of 327 Case-accredited private schools here found that at least a dozen have shockingly low standards for their courses, teaching staff and facilities.
Their websites were scrutinised on courses offered, university partners and lecturers' qualifications. Background checks were also done on school owners with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra).
This was followed by visits to the premises.
First, the degree courses.
Besides Camford Business School in Yangtze Building which offers Paramount University of Technology degrees, Boston International School in Cecil Street also runs degree courses from a 'West Coast University'.
A check on Boston International's university partner found that this is not the West Coast University that is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in the United States, which is known for its health-care degree programmes, especially in nursing.
Boston International's West Coast University is accredited by an agency located in the South Pacific islands of Wallis and Futuna.
Camford quoted a $16,000 fee for a 18- to 24-month degree course, and Boston International quoted $15,000 for a 12-month degree course.
But first, students have to obtain a diploma and advanced diploma, which will set them back another $10,000.
Most private schools refrain from publicising detailed qualifications of their lecturers, but freely confer titles of 'Dr' and 'Professor' on them.
But a few that did state the qualifications of their lecturers and even 'academic or research deans' were found to have qualifications from degree mills.
Besides Camford academic dean Wong, Cornell Business School, which could not be located at its listed address, has a Dr Alvin Oh who is an 'ecmomic Doctor in Leiqiesite University', which does not seem to exist.
West Business School in Peace Centre displays the credentials of its principal, a Dr Daniel Grayston, who has a PhD from Trinity College and University, which will ship you a degree complete with transcript of your results for under $500.
Some schools provided facilities that were far from adequate.
Punniya Language and Computer Centre in Peace Centre, for example, said it ran IT courses, but its computer room had only three computers.
An adjacent classroom had room for only five students.
Several schools running English language courses, supposedly taught by trained expatriate teachers, could not even get their basics right. Their websites were riddled with grammatical errors.
A check on the owners and officers of the schools also threw up some concerns.
Tie-ups with degree mills
Lecturers with dubious credentials
Website that offers Russian wives
Facilities which are inadequate
Checks done with Acra, which registers businesses, showed that two school owners were also involved in running nightclubs and KTV bars.
This is despite an Education Ministry (MOE) statement on its website that private school operators cannot have 'questionable' backgrounds.
Last year, a private school owner who also owned nightclubs was charged and sentenced to jail for 44 months for forging social visit passes for more than a dozen women from China.
Ng Teck Peng, 34, was sales and marketing manager for Ritz Everton Academy in Peace Centre, which was reported to have about 50 students, mostly Chinese women, taking courses on cooking and English.
Ng's activities came to light when some of the women, caught during police raids on vice-related activities, were found to have forged social visit passes which came from Ritz Everton.
What is surprising is that all these schools had gone through some initial checks when they registered as a private school with MOE and another round of stricter checks to win the CaseTrust award.
To be registered, private schools need to meet building and fire safety requirements, and have qualified teachers, appropriate facilities and a school management committee comprising at least one member.
For the CaseTrust mark, schools are vetted on their marketing brochures as well as their websites to ensure information on school facilities, courses, accreditation, curriculum content and qualifications of teachers is accurate and complete.
But MOE told The Straits Times that registration is not tantamount to accreditation or endorsement of a private school or its courses.
Case said it does several checks to verify information given by schools. It also hires consultants to pose as 'mystery shoppers' seeking information on courses and the school.
But Case director Seah Seng Choon said the CaseTrust scheme is not meant to ensure educational excellence, as that is beyond the association's purview.
Indian student Thevan, who was given a similar reply by Case, said: 'Then, why have such quality schemes? Surely, in the case of schools, it is more important to look at the quality of courses and teaching.'