22 Feb 2018

Chinese students in limbo after school closes

6:47 pm on 22 February 2018

A group of overseas students desperately need the government's help after their college closed unexpectedly.

Passport stamp visa for travel concept background, New Zealand.

Passport stamp visa for travel concept background, New Zealand. Photo: 123RF

The troubled New Zealand National College (NZNC) in Auckland was deregistered by the Qualifications Authority last month after almost nine months of investigations.

In May last year, the college stopped teaching four business courses, after an earlier NZQA investigation found poor quality control and plagiarism.

The group of about 40 Chinese students said teachers told them not to worry so it came as a complete shock when the authority announced the college was closing.

One student said she chose to study at the college because it was approved by the Qualifications Authority.

"I had researched the NZNC's background from NZQA's government website and I found that this was a good college," she said.

She said students trusted the tertiary provider and paid fees in cash or a bank cheque because they were told to - but NZQA told them the receipts they were given were unofficial.

While trying to negotiate a refund, she discovered the school seemed to be charging non-Chinese students much less than the $14,000 she was paying a year.

"Indian they paid $5000, Vietnam they paid $6000, Korean paid $11,000 so only Chinese students paid much, much more than them," she said.

The students said NZQA returned $6000 to them because that was all the school owners had put into the Public Trust.

They were given just nine working days to get new student visas and said that was not possible when they did not have a confirmed place in another school or enough money.

While some of them now had visitor visas, there were many still waiting to hear back from Immigration New Zealand.

The students cried when they spoke to RNZ, saying they had no-one to help them. They said neither NZQA nor the College had helped them to sort out new visas.

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said it was not fair that the students were the ones who had to deal with the fallout.

"There's clearly been some significant failings by various government departments to actually monitor the performance of the school," he said.

"How is it possible that the owner of the school was able to pocket money and demand cash payments from students, rather than pay it directly into the public trust?"

Joe Carolan from Unite Union said it was disgusting that the exploitation has been allowed to happen.

"The name of New Zealand is being dragged through the mud in ... China," he said.

"Many parents, many people now think that this is a place where their children are going to get ripped off by unscrupulous agents."

Mr Carolan said there will be a protest march this Friday on Queen Street to try to force the government to protect the students.

NZQA said it had kept them fully informed of the options available to them.

It said it was investigating allegations that students paid higher fees than what was put into the Public Trust.

"It is not clear why students submitted receipts for a lower amount of money than they paid and signed a declaration to that effect. In the event that there is a disparity between the fee students paid and the funds the provider deposited in the relevant trust account, NZQA will always investigate."

RNZ tried to contact the school but there was no response.

Immigration New Zealand said 43 visa applications from Chinese nationals who attended the college are still being decided.

It said most student and visitor visas are processed within 20 days if they are made online or 25 days if they are paper applications.

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