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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 10 March 2008

MOE to introduce new Private Education Act by end 2008


Enhancing Regulation of the Private Education Sector
Regulation of the private education sector will be consolidated in the Ministry of Education (MOE) and enhanced, to further improve the reputation of Singapore’s private education sector. This will be calibrated to allow new players to enter and develop, while providing incentives for market players to raise standards over time.
MOE will introduce a new Private Education Act to strengthen the existing registration framework and enforcement provisions; establish a Council to implement the regulatory framework; and introduce a quality certification scheme called “EduTrust”. This will build on the improvements in standards that have been achieved through CaseTrust for Education, which will be replaced by the new scheme. These measures will seek to ensure a baseline of quality in the industry, while preserving a marketplace that allows for student choice.
The private education landscape in Singapore has evolved rapidly over the years. The number of private schools has grown very significantly, from 305 in 1997 to 1,200 in 2007. The number of foreign students enrolled in private education organisations grew four-fold from 9,000 in 1997 to 37,000 last year.
With such rapid growth in numbers, standards differ considerably within the industry. As emphasised by Minister of State for Education, Mr Gan Kim Yong, in his speech at the FY2008 Committee of Supply Debate, the private education industry should “further develop to compete on quality, rather than faster time or ease of obtaining a degree”.
Council for Private Education
MOE will establish an independent Council for Private Education to oversee the regulatory framework for the private education sector. MOE also intends to amend the regulatory framework to require that registration be renewed periodically so as to encourage private schools to consistently maintain standards. In addition, MOE will introduce changes to strengthen its enforcement capabilities.
The Council will be chaired by Mr Lin Cheng Ton, former Principal and CEO of Nanyang Polytechnic. The Council membership will be drawn from individuals with expertise in education, quality assurance and business.
MOE will remain responsible for setting policies for the sector, but it will empower the Council to decide on all applications for registration and certification. The Council will also direct investigative and enforcement actions to be taken against errant private schools, where required. Aside from its regulatory function, the Council will also promote best practices in the private education sector.
Government agencies involved in developing Singapore as an education hub, including the Economic Development Board and Singapore Tourism Board, will be represented in the Council. The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) will also be represented.
Enhanced Registration
Currently, private schools are required to obtain one-time registration with MOE before they are allowed to operate. To do so, they must meet baseline requirements such as building and fire safety standards, and having appropriate facilities and qualified teachers.
MOE intends to impose a validity period for registration by the Council and make it renewable, subject to certain conditions. This regular renewal process rather than a one-time registration will encourage private schools to consistently maintain their standards.
Under the enhanced regulatory framework, threshold registration requirements and conditions will be clearly spelt out, so that private schools know exactly what practices are considered unacceptable.
MOE will also strengthen its capability to enforce the registration requirements. Currently, a private school can only be de-registered and only under extreme circumstances.
To better deal with schools that violate the conditions of registration, MOE will introduce graduated penalties, including fines, for errant private education providers. This will allow the Council to impose penalties that are in proportion to the severity of the offences. It will serve as useful deterrence against poor standards or behaviours while giving errant schools opportunities to rectify their violations.
EduTrust Quality Certification Scheme
The CaseTrust for Education scheme, currently administered by CASE, focuses mainly on protection of fees paid by students. EduTrust will introduce new requirements over and above those required under CaseTrust, including minimum standards of academic processes. After EduTrust is implemented, CASE will cease to offer CaseTrust for Education.
Industry players can choose whether or when to be certified, according to their own assessment of readiness and their choice of business model. However, as with the existing CaseTrust, EduTrust will be mandatory for private schools that wish to enrol foreign students.
EduTrust-certified schools will be held accountable for maintaining certain student welfare and academic standards across the board for all students, whether local or foreign. Examples of academic requirements include having qualified academic supervisors and teachers, as well as well-defined structures for programme development, assessment, progression and performance review. In terms of student welfare, EduTrust-certified private schools must protect students’ fees by depositing fees into an escrow account or purchasing student insurance. They will also be required to have reasonable fee and refund policies, effective complaint resolution procedures and adequate student counselling and support services.
An EduTrust-certified private school which is unable to demonstrate adequate financial capacity will be required to make precautionary arrangements for its students to transfer to equivalent courses in other schools, at no extra cost to the students. These transfer arrangements will only be effected in the event of the school’s closure to ensure that students can continue their studies.
To establish the Council for Private Education, and to effect the new regulatory framework, MOE plans to introduce a Private Education Bill in Parliament by end 2008.
The EduTrust scheme will be launched by the Council for Private Education in early 2009. MOE will work with CASE to facilitate CaseTrust-certified private schools to transit to the EduTrust scheme smoothly.
The public and industry stakeholders will be consulted before finalisation of the Bill and the implementation details of EduTrust. To assist private schools to transit smoothly to the enhanced regulatory framework, MOE will allow for a transition period and work closely with industry associations.

Source: Press Release 4 Mar 2008

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