Monday, July 20, 2009

MOE registration and CaseTrust no enough?

I suppose that most of you all, especially if you all have been following the news, would be aware of the ongoing case of Brookes Business School (BBS).

For those of you all who are not aware, suffice it to say that BBS, along with another private school ran by the same man behind BBS, was ordered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to close down due to its peddling of fake degrees and diplomas. Investigations into the case are ongoing and affected students are still searching for ways to resolve the predicament they suddenly find themselves in.

This blog post will be in two parts. The first part will be a discussion of my general thoughts about this case; admittedly, some of the points in this part will not be entirely original, in light of how several commentaries on this issue have already been released.

[aside: I find it somewhat interesting that it appears to me that Lianhe Zaobao/《联合早报》(LHZB) is more interested in exploring the implications of this case than the Straits Times (ST). I say this in light of the fact that while the former has already published at least two commentaries (with one being an editorial piece) on the issue, the ST has so far, to the best of my knowledge, only published a rather short and mild, if not insubstantial, editorial piece on the issue yesterday (19/7/2009)]

As for the second part of this blog post, it will include my response specifically to statements made by Mr. Seah Seng Choon, Executive Director of Case, with regards to the BBS case in yesterday night's episode of "Talking Point" on Channel NewsAsia (CNA).

MOE registration and CaseTrust no enough?

Following the closure of BBS, questions have, rightly perhaps, emerged over how the school was running a fake degree scam despite it being registered with the MOE and being accredited with Case's CaseTrust for Education scheme. Specifically, the questions revolve around the (in)adequacy of the regulatory framework that is in place for private schools operating in Singapore.

Questions have also been raised over whether this BBS case will negatively impact Singapore's plan to develop itself into a global education hub.

Well, with regards to the question of whether the local regulatory framework for private Singapore is adequate, MOE, in a response to LHZB on 16/7/2009, appears to implicitly concede that the framework currently in place is not adequate. This is considering that MOE, citing the growing numbers of private schools operating in Singapore and the increasing complaints made against some of them, said that in an effort to enhance the quality of private schools operating in Singapore, it will be proposing, by the end of this year, a new legislative act to correct the deficits and loopholes that exist in the current regulatory framework. Specifically, one of the new measures that will be included in this proposed legislative act would be the requirement for private schools to, at fixed intervals in time, renew their registration with MOE; currently, private schools need only apply for MOE registration once before they are allowed to operate.

As for the CaseTrust for Education scheme, the people behind it were quick to point out that they have consistently stated on their website and elsewhere that the scheme "does not in anyway represent an endorsement or accreditation of the quality of the courses offered" by private schools accredited by the scheme and that "Prospective students of CaseTrust certified private schools are advised to find out more about them, the quality of the courses and the background of the local organisation that facilitates the delivery of the courses before making a decision to enrol in the course of study".

Hmm... While I am glad that MOE has recognised the inadequacy of the existing regulatory framework for private schools operating in Singapore and will soon be proposing an enhanced framework to plug the loopholes in the existing framework, I cannot help but wonder if this attempt will be a case of too little and too late. It would seem to me that this attempt may be akin to bolting the gate only after the horse has escaped from the stables.

On that note, I also cannot help but wonder about why the current regulatory framework's loopholes are there in the first place. Surely, it is evident that a proper and stringent regulatory framework needs to be put in place before Singapore can develop itself into a reputable global education hub? Well, one plausible reason that I can think of for why such a curious situation has emerged would be that in an attempt to attract private schools to start operations in Singapore, the authorities have initially put in place a less stringent regulatory framework; I am, of course, only speculating. It could, of course, be pure and honest oversight at work.

Moving on to the question of whether this BBS case will negatively impact Singapore's plan to develop itself into a reputable global education hub, it would seem to me that although some may argue that fraudulent private schools such as BBS are perhaps only in the minority in Singapore, BBS is perhaps one too many. This is in light of how BBS (and other fraudulent private schools which may still be lurking out there) has affected about 400 students, both local and overseas, and how, unfortunately, people perhaps tend to remember more about or focus more attention on bad exceptions to a good norm.

Hence, hopefully, the proposed legislative act by MOE will be able to prevent re-occurrences of cases similar to BBS in Singapore.

You students should have done your homework properly...

Moving on, yesterday night, Mr. Seah Seng Choon, Executive Director of Case, along with two other guests, was invited to be on CNA's "Talking Point" to discuss the BBS case.

During the show, Mr. Seah, responding to questions by the show's two hosts, made some statements which disturbed me somewhat.

One such statement (which Mr. Seah perhaps reiterated in different variants throughout the show) was about how the CaseTrust for Education scheme, as was already mentioned above, "does not in anyway represent an endorsement or accreditation of the quality of the courses offered" by private schools accredited by the scheme and that in light of how the scheme is a necessary but not sufficient condition ensuring the quality of private schools, students should, using sources of information which are widely available in the public sphere, do their homework and properly research the background of schools before they enroll in them.

Hmm... While I can understand the rationale behind the above statement of Mr. Seah, I nonetheless still feel that by making such a statement, Mr. Seah appears to be deflecting responsibility from his organisation while pushing the blame onto students who supposedly have not done their research homework properly. This, to me, appears to be most insensitive towards those students who have been negatively affected by BBS's closure and its fraudulent actions, in light of how this statement seems to imply these students are responsible for the predicament they are currently in because they did not do their research homework properly before enrolling in BBS.

In addition, towards the end of the show, Mr. Seah, responding to a question on what should be done in the future to prevent cases like BBS from re-occurring, said that (if my memory serves me correctly) further safeguards would hopefully not be put in place as they would make it even more difficult for PEOs (Private Educational Organisations) to operate in Singapore.

I find this statement by Mr. Seah to be most curious. This is in light of the fact that he was saying this in the capacity of the executive director of Case which is supposed to be an organisation established to protect and promote the rights and interests of consumers, not those of PEOs. However, curiously enough, Mr. Seah, with his above statement, appears to be more concerned about safeguarding the interests of PEOs than that of consumers. Most curious, this stance of Mr. Seah is...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watched that segment on Talking point as well. And I too find the statements of Mr Seah very disturbing.

The few questions I have with regards to the purpose of having an organization like CASE around. When we see a CASEtrust logo on a shop or any business, we are suppose to assume that this company or business can be trusted because CASE has investigated the nature of the business and deemed it as a trusted business entity, thus the awarding of the CASEtrust logo.
If CASEtrust credentials are not to be taken at face value, then what exactly is the purpose of CASEtrust?

1) What are the criteria used by CASE when accessing if a company or business is considered trust-worthy of the CASEtrust logo?

2) Why does CASE not do at least a preliminary checks on the business, in this case BBS, whether they are peddling genuine products by doing a random check on the degrees they offer? I am sure if they had at least done some check, CASE would have found out that some of the degrees offered are not genuine!

If CASEtrust is a logo that is awarded to companies simply because they have the necessary documents to dictating that it is meant "protect" the customer signing them, then something is seriously wrong here. And when those documents signed are not honored, with CASE simply brushing off the episode as the customers (in this case, the students of BBS) as not doing enough due diligence before signing on the dotted line, then what is the purpose of having CASE around?

Puzzling, isn't it?

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