From The Age Private college system a fiasco in need of a fix by Sushi Das:
"Even as the rot in international education is laid bare, the Victorian Brumby Government would like us to believe the problems with private colleges are restricted to a handful of small, fly-by-night operators. Rubbish.
The recent closure of nine colleges in Melbourne and Sydney left nearly 3000 stranded foreign students clinging on to nothing more than hope.
Known collectively as the Meridian colleges, some had been operating since 2006, and one since 1999. All were owned by Global Campus Management, which is in turn owned by the big Cayman Islands-based SinoEd Group.
These colleges were neither small, nor fly-by-night. They closed because Global Campus Management went into voluntary administration after investors lost confidence in the colleges' survival on projected student numbers. Undoubtedly, a business decision that not only put profit before the quality of education, but also showed callous disregard for students, some of whom were just weeks away from finishing their courses.
Nobody is saying the bigger private colleges are taking under-the-counter payments for certificates or issuing fake work-experience documents, as some smaller colleges are accused of doing. But the fact remains that students have as many complaints about the big colleges as they do about the small ones.
And many of these complaints arise from college operators putting profits ahead of education and welfare - something federal and state governments have condemned.
Despite the business-led closures, the Victorian Government, which only months ago refused to acknowledge there was a looming crisis, now wants us to believe the mess is being cleaned up by an official crackdown. The truth is the Meridian colleges were not even targets of the Government's current emergency audit of 41 "high-risk" colleges.
So far this year, a total of nine private colleges for domestic and foreign students have closed in Victoria alone: eight prompted by financial concerns and one forced by the education regulator because of failure to comply with course and teaching regulations.
Belatedly, the Government is trying to bring about changes to boost the power of the regulator to close colleges sooner. These measures, while welcome, should have been taken years ago - when industry insiders were screaming about major systemic problems in vocational education; when students were lodging complaints; and when news reports were regularly exposing rorts and scams.
Skills Minister Jacinta Allan has presided over a $5.4 billion export industry that has allowed private college operators to grow rich on the back of exploitation of students from developing countries. And up until about a week ago, she did not lift a finger to improve the workings of the regulator, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.
The regulator's limp-wristed approach has allowed people to open colleges without rigorous scrutiny. Operating at the moment are colleges whose chief executives know nothing about education, colleges managed by people still in their 20s, colleges that teach automotive training from the ninth floor of a building, colleges that do not keep proper records and colleges that threaten to have students deported unless they pay fees in advance of the due date.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has blamed state regulators for the crisis. But the Brumby Government has yet to acknowledge its part in the fiasco that now undermines Victoria's biggest export earner.
As colleges collapse, and more are predicted to close, increasing numbers of displaced students must be provided with alternative colleges or be given a refund. It is their legal entitlement.
Many are being absorbed by bigger private colleges. But could these colleges collapse too? There is certainly no shortage of students complaining about being ripped off, mistreated and generally messed about by them.
Two of the bigger colleges taking on displaced students are Cambridge International College and Carrick Institute. They have their own problems. In August, The Age revealed that Cambridge, run by Roger Ferrett, was struggling to deal with a crisis in its welfare course. There were allegations that hundreds of students were being shunted through sub-standard workplace training.
Carrick Institute is also dealing with unhappy students, including one who is seeking $90,000 damages in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after his student visa was revoked and then returned by the Department of Immigration. The visa fiasco resulted from the college's alleged failure to keep proper attendance records.
And, in an unbelievably audacious twist, owner Catherine Carrick wants taxpayers to help bail out private colleges because they are burdened by displaced students.
Turmoil, uncertainty and fear plague the international education industry. Three things are now urgently needed: an industry-wide solution to the crisis; a complete rethink on whether private colleges in a deregulated environment are the way forward for vocational education; and an education regulator that has the power and the will to do its job properly."