Rorting the system

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Unscrupulous private colleges in Australia are luring Greek migrant students into courses with illegal or unethical practices, leaving many penniless and, in many cases, with a certification they don’t need.When you arrange everything in Greece, obviously you don’t have a full picture of what’s happening [here]. – AGWS’ Dimitra LagoudakiA number of private colleges have been found falsifying student attendance records and fast-tracking certificates or diplomas while pocketing up-front tuition fees.Many colleges unapologetically enrol students in the wrong courses for their proficiency levels and don’t offer students any sort of flexibility in moving courses or from one college to the other. Currently a senate committee is investigating concerns about the operation, regulation and funding of Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers in Australia.In a preliminary report released last week, the committee highlighted a number of concerning examples of aggressive marketing techniques techniques used by private colleges and education brokers and admits “that the current regulatory framework is not as effective as it can be”.Former federal president of the Australian Education Union Angelo Gavrielatos says government regulation on private colleges is “totally inadequate”.“What we are seeing across Australia is story after story of private educators exploiting young people and people in desperate situations,” Mr Gavrielatos tells Neos Kosmos. “This has got to stop.”Last week the federal government announced sweeping changes to the private education sector that included banning inducements like cash, meals, prizes or laptops to lure in students to sign up to courses they may not need.The assistant minister for education and training senator Simon Birmingham said the reforms will also put a stop to miraculously short diplomas and stop colleges from charging the course’s full fees up-front.Currently private colleges are only allowed to ask for full fees up front if the course is shorter than 26 weeks. If the course is longer, they are able to ask for half up-front. Peter Jasonides, head of the private college Institute of Tertiary and Higher Educator Australia (ITHEA), says he’s had many Greek students come to his office in a desperate state after they were mistreated by other private colleges. “People are rorting the system,” he says. “They lure students and tell them not to attend. Students are being enrolled in the wrong courses. There’s a decent number of them that don’t require any English or have been measured wrongly. They have been told to do a one year’s course in only six months or they’ve been told to do six months and in fact they’re there for a year and a half.”Many Greeks on student visas finding that the courses they enrolled in are not what they expected or unsuitable for their work needs. But before they can move into another course or even organize a transfer to another college many are slugged with up-front course fees.Since it launched in 2011, the Overseas Student Ombudsman has received over 2000 complaints from international students unhappy with their education providers.A spokesperson for the ombudsman told Neos Kosmos the most common complaints they receive are fee disputes, refund inflexibility, refusals by their education provider to allow them to transfer to another education provider and appeals to inaccurate attendance records or academic results. The Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS) has dealt with many cases of Greeks on student visas unhappy with their education outcomes in Australia.Coordinator of direct services at AGWS, Dimitra Lagoudaki says most discover problems the minute they step foot in the private college.“When they come here they find out different a situation,” she tells Neos Kosmos. “When you arrange everything in Greece, obviously you don’t have a full picture of what’s happening.”Many come with limited funds and knowledge of Australian law, meaning their ability to change their course or fight to recoup any losses is very hard. Prices for courses vary dramatically and there is no regulation set on how much private colleges can charge. A recent survey conducted by The Australian showed that some private colleges are charging up to four times more for courses than government run TAFE institutions. One of the most popular courses for Greek nationals on student visas is English as a second language. To study a certificate IV in EAL (further Study), some colleges were quoting prices starting at around $2500 while others charge more than $6000.Managing director of the Australian Industrial Systems Institute (AISI), Roula Tsiolas says pricing is subject to change throughout the year and sometimes can be determined on a need-by-need basis.“Prices are also assessed on individual needs, so we have a consultation with students who can express needs for support in that regard and we certainly do that,” she tells Neos Kosmos.But many institutions aren’t up-front about their willingness to offer negotiable fees. Most students enrol into the course online while in their homeland, and assume the quoted prices are not negotiable. When the AGWS meets desperate student visa clients, most of the time only thing they can do is refer their clients to local services.“We provide them with information, advice and referral to assist them in making an informed decision and how to continue,” Ms Lagoudaki says.Many private colleges host their own information sessions in Greece to give students a better picture of what to expect once they start studying in Australia.Both Peter Jasonides and Roula Tsiolas host information sessions in Athens that explain some of the unexpected costs costs they will incur in terms of rent, food and schooling. Mr Jasonides says most of the time, prospective students leave the information sessions deflated. “People leave the seminars disappointed because it’s not what they wanted to hear,” he says.“But if someone is hell bent on coming to Australia, they’re not going to listen to the negatives.”That desperation has left many migrants enrolling in dodgy colleges with sky high prices, and not much knowledge on how to change their situation.That lack of foresight also includes basic amenities. Ms Lagoudaki says many assume basic services like health care and cheaper transport tickets will be available to them,” she says.“They don’t know how the system works, they don’t have the access to services the Australian citizen has, like health cover, or even a reduced ticket for public transport, the concession card. “They think, well I’m a student, why shouldn’t I have access to these benefits?”Mr Jasonides says it pays to have as much knowledge as possible before moving to another country to study.“If you’re hell bent on coming to Australia, come as a tourist,” he says.“Research extensively, work out the pros and cons before you commit to coming here.”The Overseas Student Ombudsman will release a report of an investigation into signed agreements between overseas students and private education providers next week.Those wanting to file a complaint can visit the Overseas Student Ombudsman online at www.oso.gov.auThe government provides a number of resources for prospective international students online including, www.studyinaustralia.gov.au, www.liveinvictoria.vic.gov.aulast_img

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