The Stanfield Group

Giving depth to learning

MR KANNAPPAN CHETTIAR , chairman of The Stansfield Group, is Hindu but this pa Ramadan he has been fasting."I wanted to understand why Muslims fast," he explains. It was not a piece of cake. For the first two weeks, he felt weak. But from that first-hand experience of fast- ing, he gained a deeper apprecia- tion of how a taste of the pain of hunger can change one's outlook and make one kinder and more charitable towards others. Mr Chettiar, 44, is a believer in the educational value of first-hand experiences. He wants to be able to enrich the education of the students at Stansfield by giving them the opportunity to take classes in two or three different countries. "If a student studies just in Singapore, he gets one perspective. If he studies in India or China, the content may be the same but the context is different," he says. "To give depth to education, it is my view that you need context." That is one of the reasons he wants to set up Stansfield campus- es overseas. The group currently has a campus in Chennai, India and there are plans to establish another in China next year. There are costly executive Mas ter in Business Administration pro- grammes that are already doing this, but Mr Chettiar hopes to be able to offer such a "borderless ed ucation" at an affordable price and open it even to undergraduates. He concedes that this lofty goal is not going to be easy to attain. But given what he has achieved since 1993, when he opened the Stansfield School of Business in Serangoon with six lecturers from the United Kingdom and 200 stu- dents, he just might succeed.The Stansfield Group now comprises Stansfield College, (SIC), which Stansfield bought out in 1998.

Before Mr Chettiar started Stansfield, he had been one of SIC's directors but left in frustration in 1992. It was a case of too many cooks, with each of the directors having his own ideas of how to run the business. That bad experience is the reason Mr Chettiar preferred to go it alone with Stansfield. The schools now enrol about 4,000 students in Singapore, more than half of whom are foreigners. Some of them are housed in the group's own student hostel, located off Bartley Road, which has capacity for about 700 residents. Turnover for the group was about $14 million last year. This is the fifth çonsecutive year that Stansfield is on the Enterprise 50 list. But these past few years have not been the best of times for the private education industry. The spate of private schools with financial problems that surfaced and the bad press that followed, has not left Stansfield unscathed. Enrolment dipped, especially in China. But Mr Chettiar thinks that what happened was not an entirely bad thing. At least it stemmed the tide of people pouring into the business who had no interest in education and were in it only to make money.

"It was a bitter pill, but all said and done, the industry has become stronger," he says. Looking to the future, he wants to pit Stansfield against the Singapore Institute of Manage ment (SIM) though it is more than double its size in terms of student enrolment in Singapore. SIM's strength is precisely why Mr Chettiar wants to take them on. "Where's the glory in taking on the weak?" he asks with a laugh. His dream is that Stansfield, like the SIM, can one day form a university. "That is my ultimate goal,"