Being a degree mill: Singapore’s shame
Written by Ng E-Jay
26 November 2009
Despite being touted by the Government as a premier centre for education, Singapore has been placed on a degree mill watch-list compiled by Oregon’s Office of Degree Authorisation (ODA).
Degree mills are unaccredited institutions that award academic credentials without a rigorous process. They range from simple frauds — an address to which people send money in immediate exchange for a degree — to elaborate hoaxes in which students participate for a couple of years in seemingly authentic online lessons but do not put in the amount of effort normally required for the degree in question.
The American state of Oregon has strict laws regarding the use of academic qualifications, which include requiring that a person’s business cards, CV and letterhead declare if his degree is from an unaccredited university. Oregon’s degree mill watch-list is one of the most comprehensive compiled by a government body in the United States. It has named six institutions in Singapore as offering unaccredited qualifications: Cranston University, Templeton University, Trident University of Technology, Vancouver University Worldwide, Westmore University and Lee Community College.
The Lee Community College in particular has a CaseTrust for Education quality mark and is popular in Singapore for its diploma courses in counselling and psychology. Even though the Ministry of Education (MOE) has clarified that the Lee Community College is not approved to offer any external degree programmes (Source: Straits Times, “S’pore on list of degree mill countries“, 26 Nov 09), this is nonetheless a very negative indictment of the standard of quality control in Singapore’s education system.
Not too long ago, many students in Singapore were left high and dry by the CaseTrust-accredited Brookes Business School which had offered fraudulent RMIT degrees. (See here.)
Such cases have put a serious dent on Singapore’s reputation as a centre for higher learning, and has thrown into question the competence of the authorities in imposing strict quality controls and enforcing rigorous standards on private education establishments in Singapore.
It is known that private schools can spend up to $100,000 seeking accreditation from CASE and approval from MOE.
Mr Alan Contreras, the administrator for Oregon’s ODA, said Singapore never used to feature on the ODA’s list. He was quoted by the Straits Times as saying: “The problem Singapore has is that it opened the door to private post-secondary education without establishing a serious governmental oversight process to make those providers prove that they are legitimate.”
This is precisely the kind of problem that arises when the Government insists on charging full-steam ahead on its “growth at all costs” policies without first putting in place adequate safeguards.
Mr Contreras also warned: “Without enforcement of standards by the government, anything goes. This is why the reputation of degrees issued in Singapore is falling.”
Being labelled a degree mill is Singapore’s shame. It is high time the authorities take steps to rectify the situation because if left unchecked, eventually the international reputation of Singapore’s degrees will be dented, even those degrees awarded by public institutions like NUS or NTU. A thorough investigation must also be conducted into why some private schools which were awarded CASE accreditation turned out to be frauds.