31 Mar 2015

Claims of student poaching by tertiary institutions

7:32 am on 31 March 2015

A group of tertiary institutions says cut-price competitors are poaching their foreign students and taking millions of dollars in fees.

International students at Unitec in Auckland

International students at Unitec in Auckland Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

The Auckland International Education Group of private training establishments (PTEs) said some organisations were losing hundreds of students a year, sometimes to rival schools in the same office building.

The group's spokesperson Paul Chalmers said it had asked the Qualifications Authority and Immigration New Zealand to investigate the four institutions they say are the worst offenders.

He said his institution, Newton College of Business and Technology, had already lost students this year.

"From the beginning of January around about 40, but we have a PTE member who lost 350 last year to this type of activity."

Mr Chalmers said it was not illegal to entice students from one institution to another, or to offer them a major refund of their fees.

But he said it was not possible to offer a good education on the remaining fee income and that was why the Qualifications Authority and Immigration New Zealand should investigate.

"We're making an assumption here based on an industry standard about pricing. It's not a business that you're making a huge amount of money off, it's a standard New Zealand business, and when somebody charges 50 percent less, a warning should go up," he says.

"Four thousand dollars, $5000 for a year's tuition - you just can't run a business on it, so they are avoiding some of the key requirements - attendance, actually doing the programme."

Mr Chalmers would not name the four institutions the group has reported to Immigration New Zealand and the Qualifications Authority.

Sam Malafi is the chief executive of NTEC, a group of five private tertiary institutions with nearly 3000 students.

He said the group lost about 100 students to poaching last year and it is annoying.

"To offer a New Zealand education to overseas students costs us millions every year," he says.

"These colleges don't spend a single dollar on international marketing so they have an immediate saving."

Chief executive of Queens Academic Group Teena Hireme said it loses about 50 students a year and they often regret the move.

"We are seeing quite a few students now starting to regret the choice that they're making, especially as the schools that they are going to are starting to become quite shaky because obviously if you're charging low prices you will struggle to provide good quality."

Ms Hireme said providers that offer a cut-price model have gone under in the past and she is certain that will happen again.

The Qualifications Authority and Immigration New Zealand have told Radio New Zealand National they are aware of the issue and will consider if any action is required.