Dear Prime Minister,
Those dodgy vocational colleges must be punish and those contracts cancel.
Unity Party WA
Save the trees – Please use email
UPWA is the only political Party that calls a spade a spade.
Dodgy vocational colleges using laptop lure despite government crackdown
Date – November 22, 2015 – 7:36PM – Michael Bachelard – The Age
Watch as our camera catches sales reps illegally offering ‘free’ laptops to sign customers to expensive vocational education courses.
Jobless targeted in diploma sales push
Three salesmen pull up outside a dingy, housing commission unit, their car boot packed with more than 20 new laptops ready to be given away.
This poverty-stricken street in regional Queensland is one of the front lines of Australia’s out-of-control vocational education sales industry. It’s the biggest get-rich-quick scheme in Australia, and “Hamza” has driven all the way from Victoria to play his part.
Four months ago, the federal government cracked down, tightening the laws and promising more rules on January 1. The ACCC has launched prosecutions against Sydney college Unique International, which has allegedly targeted vulnerable people in Aboriginal communities. The ACCC has also flagged its intention to go after another college, Melbourne’s Phoenix Institute.
Here, though, nothing has changed. Inside the house lives a multi-generational, part-Aboriginal family under the care of matriarch Lenore Lutanichi. There is plenty of love, but precious little money. There’s no carpet on the concrete floor and not much furniture.
The children range in age from newborns to early teens. Every adult is on welfare.
A car boot full of new laptops ready for delivery for new vocational students.
A car boot full of new laptops ready for delivery for new vocational students. Photo: Michael Bachelard
The adults have all signed up to at least one $18,000 online diploma course. Hamza, who is today representing Victorian training provider Ascet Institute of Technology, came to sign up more.
“You can choose four course options: project management, human resource management, business, and leadership management,” he said to the crowd gathered on the veranda, his two mates guarding the carload of laptops.
“This is an online course … you don’t have to go to a college; you just stay home and spend maybe two or three hours [on the computer] during the week … Mostly people complete the course [in] a minimum … of six or eight months.”
Vocational education salesman “Hamza” and his car full of laptops.
Educators know that genuine diplomas are highly technical and take two years full-time or four years part-time at TAFE to complete.
But there is one big reason why so many sign up: the offer of a free computer.
“This is an incentive by the government. They are offering laptops, on the spot,” Hamza announced.
Tasmin Watson, Lenore Lutanichi and other family members.
These honeyed words, captured by Fairfax Media on video, are both false and illegal. The July 1 law changes banned the offer of inducements to sell vocational courses.
The sharks of the education marketplace, lured by easy profits from government funding, are simply ignoring the law.
Ms Lutanichi and her family were first visited around July by “Yashma”, who represented Melbourne’s Phoenix Institute, which is owned by listed group Australian Careers Network (ACN).
Vocational education salesman Gagandeep Sachdeva with his new Porsche
She agreed to sign up, excited by a new educational opportunity, and then encouraged her five children and all their partners and ex-partners to do the same. All got their free laptops.
But what each was really agreeing to was a big HECS-style debt that they would be required to pay back.
The scheme, thanks to agents such as Yashma and Hamza, has exploded in the past 12 months. Driven by a hot-house sales culture, it will cost the taxpayer $4 billion this year.
A text message sent by saleswoman Yashma to Lenore Lutanichi.
“It’s the most expensive laptop ever,” Ms Lutanichi jokes.
Most of that massive diversion of public funds is likely to be wasted. Ms Lutanichi’s family, like most new “students”, will never get a qualification. But if they get their lives together and earn more than the average salary – currently pegged at just over $54,000 – they will need to repay the loans.
After signing 10 people up for courses, Yashma then started using Ms Lutanichi to do grunt work for her, paying $50 for every new person she found. Ms Lutanichi would send tax file numbers and other identifying documents such as Medicare cards via SMS.
SMS from saleswoman Yashma to Lutanichi after a Fairfax Media sting
Fairfax Media has discovered that sales agents employ “scribes” to fill in the necessary forms – often including the English language and numeracy tests – which are supposed to be filled in by students.
Then Yashma asked for even more business, this time for another college, Ascet Institute of Technology – a small Melbourne college that has been registered for 20 years and, until recently, taught mainly cooking courses.
Eighteen-year-old Tasmin Watson, Lutanichi’s daughter, signed up again. Officially she is studying a business diploma from Phoenix Institute, and a property management diploma at Ascet.
She has not read the course material for either – she’s too busy improving her poor literacy, trying to finish high school, and being a single mum to baby Sienna.
“I haven’t started the course yet … after finding out it was a fraud,” she says. “And I don’t think I would have done it anyway. But I got a free laptop, so, yeah.”
Paul Wiggett, 19, Lutanichi’s former son-in-law, can barely read or write, but has signed up for a business diploma at Phoenix. Documents also arrived recently, out of the blue, for a “Diploma of Events” from yet another college, Sydney-based AIPE. Mr Wiggett doesn’t know how his name was registered for that.
Ms Watson’s VET FEE-Help debt for the two courses is $41,000, she thinks. Actually, nobody here is quite sure how much they owe.
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