157 optometry students left in lurch

Mark and Ann (not their real names) are two second-year bachelor of optometry students at the International University College of Technology Twintech. They are part of the 157 students who enrolled in the sole private institution that offers the optometry degree program and were promised accreditation.

“When our third semester started early this year, we realised that many lecturers have left and some graduated seniors were having a hard time getting an occupational license,” said Mark.

The students soon found that not only had the Malaysian Optical Council (MOC) withdrawn its accreditation in June 2010, but the Glasgow Caledonian University Scotland had also revoked its endorsement of the course.

This leaves the students in a quandary – now they are no longer qualified to work in medical institutions nor can they transfer credits to the Scottish university or any other university for that matter.

According to Ann, Twintech promoted the course by invoking Glasgow Caledonian’s twinning agreement when she first enrolled in 2009. However in August 2009, the twinning agreement was withdrawn as stated in a letter dated August 2009 stating the university had failed to “meet requirements”.

The MOC had only started recognising the course in February this year before revoking its accreditation last month.

College raised fees without justification

A group of the students accompanied by Petaling Jaya Utara parliamentarian Tony Pua today called a press conference to highlight their plight.

“Twintech increased the tuition fee from RM8500 to RM10,500 last year after the course was recognised by Glasgow Caledonian,” Mark said, adding that the college had still maintained the fees after Glasgow Caledonian had withdrawn its endorsement.

Tony said the students, especially those who are in third or fourth year are now stuck in a quandary.

“They can’t transfer to other institutions such as UKM or UTHM because the course is not recognised and some of them do not possess a STPM certificate.

“But if they continue, neither  the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) nor Twintech can give assurance on their accreditation.”

Twintech commenced the degree program in 2004. The first batch of students graduated in 2008 and can only work in retail shops due to the lack of an MOC license.

Tony said he will try to seek an audience with the top brass of MoHE.

“There are two solutions. First, MoHE gives black and white assurance on the course. Second, MoHE helps them to move to another school,” he said.

Tony however said pressuring MOC is not a good option.

“We should not ask MOC to relax its requirements for this case, because it will result in a batch of ill-qualified optometrists. We should however ask MoHE to monitor the college so that it fulfills the criteria of MOC,” he said.

Meanwhile, secretary of MOC Ismail A Shukor declined to comment.

When Komunitikini posed as potential students enquiring about the optometry course, the institution still insisted on claiming the course was accredited by the MOC.