Degree critic faces legal action

October 25, 1996

A lecturer who circulated criticisms of business degree programmes franchised in Singapore by a British university is facing legal action.

The Management Development Institute of Singapore terminated the employment of Gul Chotrani, a part-time lecturer, and threatened to consult lawyers after he made allegations about the quality of degree programmes it offered.

Mr Chotrani claimed students of the programmes graduated with management education of "dubious standards", were unable to conduct even elementary discussions about business or current affairs, and possessed poor English language and research skills.

In a letter earlier this month to education chiefs in England and Singapore, Mr Chotrani claimed he had been raising his doubts about quality control at the institute for more than two years.

His claims come as concern grows over the standard of degrees taken abroad but validated in Britain. Earlier this week, the British Council said it would take steps to defend the reputation of British education, which was suffering from poor degree courses run on some foreign campuses.

But Bradford University, which validates the Singapore degree programmes criticised by Mr Chotrani, has defended their quality. A statement from the university said: "Although without foundation, we are concerned about the effect of this letter on the highly professional and committed teaching staff in Singapore and the excellent and hard-working students and graduates from the programme.

"We have confidence in this programme, which is subject to independent, external quality assurance and have responded in full to the matters raised in the letter."

David Johns, vice chancellor of Bradford, said the university declined to comment further while the issue was subject to legal action, The private institute, which runs the courses for Bradford, said it would sue for defamation if it did not receive an apology from Mr Chotrani by last week. No apology was forthcoming and the matter is now in the hands of lawyers.

Mr Chotrani claims the number of first-class degrees awarded at the institute is "unusually high, taking into account the weaknesses in standards of curricula, method of assessment and teaching methodology and also the quality of students enrolled".

But Constance Chew, a spokeswoman for the institute, said their students were able to perform well because they had more experience. All tutors had at least a masters degree and students were happy with the degrees.

She said Mr Chotrani's employment had been terminated because he had broken clauses in his contract and did not meet the institute's quality standards. "He may have brought his complaints up before but there was nothing in writing," she said. "As far as we are concerned, we have talked to him, we have said we would look into it and the next thing we know he has written this letter."

The Higher Education Quality Council, which regulates quality at British universities, has requested comments from Bradford on the allegations. A spokesman confirmed that the council had been made aware of Mr Chotrani's allegations a year ago.

The question of standards in degree courses offered overseas is an increasingly hot topic.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Brunel University, said: "It is a question about to what extent can you transfer the essence of a degree to another location. We are in danger of undermining the reputation of all British degrees if they are being achieved in a short time in a different language and by students who have never set foot in the awarding university."

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