Despite reports that all Singapore International Teaching Consultancy schools have closed across Vietnam, and that Vietnamese authorities and Interpol are searching for the institute’s director general, SITC staff in Phnom Penh said this week that they have been unaffected.
The Saigon Times Daily reported on Feb 9 that Vietnamese officials are trying to track down SITC Director General Michael Yu and an unknown number of his senior managers.
They fled after about 30,000 students and 1,000 employees discovered on Jan 22 that all 14 English schools and five management centers run by SITC had been closed without warning, the Saigon Times Daily reported.
“The Ministry of Public Security is working with Singapore agencies concerned and the Interpol to hunt down Michael Yu, general director of the chain, and his senior managers who have fled,” the state-controlled newspaper reported.
Singapore’s online magazine Today reported that officials found that in the 2003-2004 financial year, the SITC chain of schools in Vietnam made an official, nominal profit of just $600.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment urged the at-large SITC managers to compensate students and employees for lost course fees and earnings resulting from the lightning closure, according to Today magazine.
Justin Chiv, public relations manager for the SITC International Institute Cambodia and Preston University USA, which operate from the same building on Phnom Penh’s Charles De Gaulle Boulevard, said that SITC’s two Cambodian branches, owned by Michael Yu, were not affected by the scandal in Vietnam.
“The story from Vietnam, this is related to Michael, it has no connection to the school at all,” said Chiv, a Canadian national, on Monday.
“[Michael Yu] needs to stand up and solve the problem,” he added
In a Feb 10 e-mail message, Yu declined to respond to questions about whether he was being sought by Vietnamese authorities, though he said he had been given total control of SITC’s Cambodia operations, located in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, in August.
Mak Nang, deputy director of the higher education department at Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, said SITC was licensed by the ministry but that she was preparing to contact Yu about his operations in the country given the developments in Vietnam.
SITC’s building in Phnom Penh formerly housed the beleaguered American University of Hawaii. In April 2004, a US court ruled that AUH could not offer degrees or accept tuition after it was found not to be meeting the requirements for an unaccredited institution in the state of Hawaii, leaving the academic awards of hundreds of Cambodian students in question.
AUH closed following the US court ruling, but students were able to transfer their credits to Preston University, which began operating out of the same building in 2004, according to Jerry Haenisch, the owner and chancellor of Preston, which operates in various other countries including Burma and Malaysia.
A formal affiliation agreement between SITC and Preston is currently being negotiated, he added.
Both Haenisch and Chiv spoke highly of Preston, which Chiv said is one of the best private universities in Cambodia.
“Our primary concern is for the educational opportunity and academic success of the students,” Haenisch wrote in an e-mail.
Preston is based in the US state of Wyoming, where it is licensed, Jim McBride, the state’s superintendent of education, wrote in an e-mail.
However, “neither the State Board nor the [state education department] accredits or endorses any course of study offered by Preston,” McBride wrote.
He added that he was not aware of Preston having been accredited by any agency recognized by the US Department of Education. “Credits from an unaccredited university are generally not accepted by an accredited university. Neither are the degrees,” he added.
Despite the storm of controversy enveloping Yu in Vietnam, Chiv said that Yu will now be focusing his attentions on SITC’s higher education efforts in Cambodia, and that he is a frequent visitor to the Phnom Penh office.
“For him, running and opening an English program is a piece of cake,” Chiv said. “So, what he wants is to concentrate on the university. It’s a big challenge for him.”