Recently, I was asked a question, on the “recognition” of a foreign degree program, since it was administered through a private educational institution (PEI). It really surprised me that this problem exist in Singapore that people are spending their hard-earned money on a foreign degree program that may NOT be recognised.
1) Private Educational Institutes (PEI)
This problem has many layers, and we will peel them one by one. The first layer, is probably the easiest to peel and answer – The PEI itself. This is the easiest, simply because all you have to do is to check if the PEI is registered with the Committee for Private Education (CPE). There is so MUCH information on this, it is not even funny. All you need is to “google” them and I strongly encourage you to do so.
Basically if the PEI registered, you can have “some” assurance, that they will NOT be offering some “paper-mill degree”. There are many other considerations, and being registered does not mean, that the PEI will NOT cheat you, but you can be sure it has met some basic standards of “governance”.
So we will move past this point, especially since it does NOT answer the main question.
2) Recognised versus Accredited Degrees
Before we move forward, we need to clarify another layer first.
2a) Accredited Degrees – refer to degrees that are recognised by the professional body of that specific profession. For example, if you want to be an engineer or physician (in Singapore, there are strangely called doctors), your degree MUST be recognised the Professional Engineers Board (Singapore) for engineers; or Singapore Medical Council for physicians. These degrees are usually “professional” degrees that has to maintain standards. Other professions, include: Architecture, Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy etc.
So if you are planning to study a degree that requires accreditation, your quest for the answer stop her. Go to the relevant Singapore professional body, check with courses are accredited and then go for it. This is important, because Singapore professional bodies do have a list of which degrees are recognised.
It does not matter even if the degree is accredited by that countries professional body, even respectable ones (e.g. U.K), if the Singapore professional body do NOT recognise that degree, you cannot use it to practice in Singapore. For example, there are numerous medical degrees from UK and Malaysia that are not recognised by the SMC.
Why this is the case, you can probably read it in their own website or relevant documentation, but I do have my own theories on it for SOME of the bodies (message me privately if you want to know more).
2b) Recognised Degree – refers to everything else and the main topic of this post. However take note, is almost all ( I said almost), accredited are likely to be recognised degrees also.
3) Degree Recognition
This next layer is NOT so easy to answer or “googled” definitively. The main reason for this is because, there is NO official board to recognise foreign degrees, and I do not think we will have one anytime soon.
So since there is no board to officiate or recognise the foreign degree. “Who Does?”. I guess the shortest and best answer is the Industry or your prospective employer. If they recognise your degree, and they will be your paymaster, then that it is all that matters. But this answer is not very helpful in answering our main question.
The answer, I guess lies in the largest employer in Singapore. The Singapore Civil Service or specifically the Public Service Commission (PSC)and most of the industry will look to the PCS for guidelines on this. If the PCS recognises your degree, chances are it will be recognises in Singapore.
This brings us to the next layer, what are the requirements for the degree to be recognised by the PCS? Sadly the PSC does not maintain a list of recognised universities and leave it to the individual organisation to decide, which again does not answer our question.
So let me be clear, not only is there no accredited body to determine if a foreign degree is recognised or not, there is no list, for people to check against, which is NOT helpful.
So below are some guidelines, which I suggest you can use to see if it likely to be recognised by the PSC. I repeat, these are my PERSONAL guidelines, and there is no guarantee that it will be recognised by the PSC.
These are the guidelines or questions you MUST ask when assessing the degree.
i) Is the university recognised by the government from where that university is from. Typically this is the department or ministry of education. For example, in Singapore, all local universities must be recognised by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
I will discuss a bit on U.S. universities, due to the unique setup which makes it more difficult to navigate and since I have seen a lot of Singaporean with all sort of degrees and doctorates (sadly a lot of them bogus) from US universities.
Basically the U.S. Department of Education (their MOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) does not accredited or recognised individual universities or organisation. What they do is they provide guidelines and “recognise” bodies to do that job for them.
A portion of these bodies are known as Regional Accreditation bodies and they are 6 of them for example, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) for universities located in the north-west portion of the U.S. such as Alaska, Oregon, Washington (the state not the capital) etc. Or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACC) for universities in the (you guessed it), southern states such as Alabama, Texas and Virginia.
And typically, the accreditations standards of these 6 bodies exceed or are more rigorous than the guidelines set by the CHEA and U.S. DOE. So when you are looking at a U.S., universities, do check that they are accredited by the respective regional bodies. I personally feel this SHOULD be the standard for Singaporean looking to answer this question – Is the university recognised by the government?
Now some U.S universities may state that they are not regionally accredited but are instead accredited by one of the 10 national accreditating bodies that is recognised by the US DOE. Now, I cannot comment on these as I have not done an intensive reading or research on them and they are probably one or two educational institutions that are good but due to the nature of their institute may not qualify (different post for another day). But what I can summarise is, if the degree or university is “good enough”, it is likely to also be accredited by the regional bodies.
ii) Is the degree recognised by the government from where the university is from? In most cases, if the university is recognised, the degree is recognised.
iii) Accreditated – We already discussed this above.
iv) Sanctions – Rarely a concern in Singapore (for now). Is there a sanction against country or the particular university? If there is, then it will not be recognised.
Therefore to answer the question: Is the foreign degree recognised in Singapore?
1) Is it a professional degree? Does it need to be accreditated by a relevant Singapore professional body?
NO – Go to question 2
YES – There is a list – go to the relevant Singapore body and check.
2) Is the foreign degree from a university that is recognised by their own government?
NO – Then STOP, do not go further, do not PASS GO, do NOT collect $200.
YES – Go to Question 3
3) Is the foreign degree recognised by their own government?
NO – Then STOP, do not go further.
YES – Congratulations: – Your degree is likely to be recognised in Singapore.
Hope this answers the question most people have on this topic. I might have a separate blog post on degrees from U.S. Institutions because I have seen too many Singaporeans with Drs and Professor (degrees) – really, professor degree? how is that even possible?
I will also have another blog post in future about selecting universities for post-graduate study.
Smart-mamat the Poly-Mat(h)
The Eternal Student