Safety net for 2,000 forsaken students

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 March, 2006, 12:00am

The collapse of two large private education institutions in Australia would once have cost their 2,000 foreign and Australian students tens of thousands of dollars in unrecoverable tuition fees.

But a tuition assurance scheme run by ACPET, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, means the students will be able to continue their studies at other colleges without having to pay extra fees.

The two institutions, Stott's Correspondence College and the Computer Power Institute, had centres in several of Australia's capital cities. Both were owned by foreign companies, the Computer Institute by a Singapore-based consortium called Easycall and Stott's by a New Zealand public college, the NZ Open Polytechnic.

ACPET executive director Tim Smith has written to the two parent organisations asking them to accept some financial responsibility for the closures. He is flying to New Zealand next week to discuss the issue with the country's Tertiary Education Commission and the chief executive of the polytechnic.

'Relocation is a complex exercise and the ACPET members who have opened their doors to assist the affected students deserve gratitude,' Mr Smith said. 'However, it is not the sector alone that should shoulder the responsibility for these students. Easycall and the NZ Polytechnic must accept their moral responsibility for relocating its students.'

He said that Easycall, a solvent and profitable company, should make some contribution to the financial cost of relocating the students 'that, for commercial reasons, it chose to abandon'.

The wealthy NZ Open Polytechnic had also left the country, leaving Australian providers to rescue its students. Where was the duty of care, Mr Smith asked.

Former students of the Computer Institute who arrived at meetings around the country last week were told how the assurance scheme was being implemented to help them continue their studies.

Mr Smith said most students left the meetings reassured that ACPET was looking after their interests 'in the best possible way'.

All eligible students would be placed in the same or similar courses with other fully-accredited providers. Students who had paid tuition fees in advance would not have any additional costs and all students would receive credit for units they completed at their new institution.

ACPET has now called on the Australian government to ensure that foreign-owned colleges in Australia meet their financial obligations to their students by contributing to a tuition assurance scheme.