Ask Sandra: How do I pick a good private school after O levels?


Q I just received my O-level results and I am unlikely to get into the polytechnic course I want. So I am considering enrolling in a private school to study for a diploma, then a degree. How do I pick a good one that offers a degree that will be recognised by employers?

A First, check if the private school is registered. You can go to the Council for Private Education (CPE) website for this. The CPE regulates private schools. To be registered, a school must meet several requirements in areas such as academic processes and governance.

Next, check if it has the EduTrust certification. If it does, it means that it has undergone an extra tier of quality assurance by the CPE. Only EduTrust-certified schools can enrol international students.

There are different tiers of EduTrust certification - a provisional one-year certification, a four-year certification and the highest level, the EduTrust Star certification.

So far, two private schools hold the EduTrust Star for excelling in all key areas of management and providing quality education services. The two are James Cook University Singapore and Lasalle College of the Arts.

Do further checks if a school has only the provisional EduTrust award. This means it has attained a minimum level of performance in key areas of management and the provision of educational services.

If you are considering a particular degree course, check if it is approved by the CPE.

Private schools offering courses, such as diplomas, degrees and full-time certificates or preparatory courses, must be CPE-registered. You should also check on the partner university offering the degree.

You can check its ranking within the country, as well as the international rankings done by Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, called the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

THE and QS also publish various other tables which show how universities rank in different disciplines. This will give you an idea of where your choice of partner university stands. Also check that the lecturers teaching the course hold relevant qualifications.

The recognition of degrees is important. But note that there is no authority in Singapore that can tell you if your foreign degree is recognised. You will have to check if the university has accreditation in its home country.

In Britain, universities are given degree-awarding powers by the government; in the United States, they have to receive accreditation from a regional accreditation body.

For example, the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges is the regional accreditation agency for colleges and universities in the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

You should also consider if the degree you want is well-regarded by employers (whether they will hire you for a job) and other higher educational institutions (in case you want to further your studies).

Speak to prospective employers, industry groups and past graduates about employability. For professional qualifications such as law, accountancy, medicine and engineering, check if it is recognised by the relevant bodies in Singapore.

You should also check on the graduation rate and employment prospects of graduates from the course of study you want.

Some schools, such as the Singapore Institute of Management and James Cook University Singapore, conduct graduate employment surveys and publish the results. You should study those results.

You could also attend an alumni function to speak to some of the graduates to find out more.

Some courses include industry work attachment. Find out which organisation you will be attached to and for how long, and verify this with the attachment organisation.

Every registered private school must have a student contract for each course. Look at the terms carefully and sign only when you are satisfied. The CPE website gives advice on what to look out for.

Several private schools promise shorter study periods for diplomas and degrees, but ask yourself if that is enough time for you to develop a solid base of knowledge and skills for the job that you want.

Ask if you can cope with the tight schedule and assignment deadlines, especially if you want to work full-time and study part-time.

Consider fees and your financial situation before enrolling in a private course. Students taking up courses in private schools, except for UniSIM (SIM University), do not enjoy subsidies. They also cannot use their own or their parents' Central Provident Fund.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Ask Sandra'. Print Edition | Subscribe