Duped students need simple dispute resolution centre

Dinoo Kelleghan

Refund policy is a area of great concern for Federation

The Consumer Action Law Centre has called for a dispute resolution service for students duped by dodgy private training colleges that are aggressively targeting vulnerable asylum-seekers, job-seekers and low-income groups.

These are the very groups that NSW TAFE, now forced to fight for budget dollars against private training providers under Smart and Skilled, was trusted by the community to educate with care and diligence.

Federation sees the refund policy and the ability to have VET FEE-HELP debts wiped as areas of great concern.

“There’s an imbalance between the obligations and responsibilities of the respective parties to the service contract,” Assistant General Secretary (Post Schools Education) Maxine Sharkey said.

“The student has the responsibility to notify the provider within just seven days in some cases to get out of a contract while the provider has no obligation to spell out its refund policy.

“There is no obligation placed on the provider to make, for instance, a potential student with cognitive disorders understand the seven-day policy and other stipulations.”

“We think duped students need a face-to-face dispute resolution service so that they don’t have to go to a court or the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal to sort it out,” said Consumer Action Law Centre senior policy officer Katherine Temple. “An ombudsman is free and will sort the problem out pretty quickly.”

Ms Temple also called for the April 1 federal government ban on freebies such as iPads and laptops being offered as sign-up inducements by private training colleges to be extended to all courses, not simply VET FEE-HELP courses.

She said the ban was being flouted in NSW and Victoria, with the most egregious examples being the hounding of low-income groups and unemployed job-seekers.

“Spruikers for training colleges go into low-income areas and offer cash in hand — say, $500 — to people to sign up for a course,” Ms Temple said.

Job-seekers on sites such as Seek.com are being duped, most cruelly by being invited for fake job interviews. One man signed up for a $17,000 course after being fraudulently promised a mining job. He had also paid the provider $99 for registration.

“It’s very difficult to prove how the scam operates,” Ms Temple said. “When people apply for a job online they sometimes use multiple websites and then receive a phone call from a training provider.” Seek has condemned the frauds.

A worker with asylum-seekers told Education her clients had been sold worthless qualifications and she herself had been cold-called by a private college that had thwarted Do Not Call register guidelines and offered her a free iPad if she signed up for a course.

“He was throwing that laptop at me right from the start,” Jennifer Clarke said. “He wasn’t interested in what I was doing or wanted to do.”

She knows asylum-seekers who have signed up for dodgy courses, targeted by brokers usually from their own communities.

One asylum-seeker from an African country who wanted work in aged care and had no training in it applied to a private college that enrolled her right at the top in a Certificate 4 — Aged Care Co-ordination course. She got her certificate but no one will give her a job. “You need a Cert 3 to get work in aged care and she’s got a management-level qualification that assumes she has one,” Ms Clarke said.

“She paid thousands of dollars for a useless piece of paper.”

Ms Clarke, was able to get a training organisation to enrol the desperate woman in a Certificate 3 course free of charge.

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