June 2009 issue

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Safeguarding study

Tuition assurance is a guarantee that students can continue their studies, should their language school abruptly close. This is a rare occurrence, but it pays to be clued up about students’ rights while overseas. Amy Baker reports.

With agencies usually working with established companies or loyal partners, school closure is probably the last thing on their mind. As Lucrecia Forsyth of Escuelas Unidas agency in Peru observes, “I had never thought about the possibility of any of our school partners in this terrible position.”

Minimal feedback from agencies on the topic of tuition assurance is a statement in itself: this is not always a primary area of focus or knowledge for many. One agent, Petra Wagner from Easy Sprachreisen in Germany, simply answered “none” when asked if she knew about countries or organisations that offer tuition assurance strategies. Another, Satako Hojo of Success Canada in Canada, noted that Canada lacks a national tuition assurance scheme, which she discovered when a partner school went bust. While this is true, members of national association, Languages Canada, do offer tuition assurance.

It is insightful for agencies to know what guarantees are offered by whom, even if, as Forsyth claims, “I’m not sure this would make us choose a country, right now it is not a priority, maybe later.”

Worldwide, there are two very impressive and robust systems in place to safeguard students’ money should – in a worse case scenario – a language school or teaching centre collapse or fail while students are studying there. Australasia leads the pack, with Australia and New Zealand both guaranteeing that no student will lose out if a school fails.

In New Zealand, the collapse of Carich Training Institute and Modern Age language schools left a bitter taste in the mouth of many professional operators in the industry in 2004. The result was a change in policy regarding the education export levy, which all education institutions are required to pay (0.5 per cent of all revenue).

Robert Stevens, Chief Executive of Education New Zealand, explains, “[The change in use of levy funds] was brought in around 2004 following some big private provider collapses. This resulted in the government reimbursing the students (from Crown monies) to the tune of several million dollars – and the government then changed the legislation so that the onus was on the industry to self-manage its own ultimate financial assurance.”

He underlines that this safeguard is the second or third safety measure for schools, depending on whether they are a member of a group that supports each other with agreements to cover tuition fees or not.

This layer, too, is in addition to the robust NZQA registration process, Stevens details, which requires private providers to hold tuition fees in a separate trust account that is administered by a separate accountancy firm or lawyer. “They can only draw down the funds on a pro rata basis as the student progresses throughout their course,” he says. Kim Renner at English New Zealand adds, “This is the first line of protection for student fees and should cover everything.”

Australia is equally firm in its policy. Sue Blundell at English Australia explains that all private providers have to sign up to a tuition assurance scheme (TAS), while, as in New Zealand, state-run schools are automatically prevented from going bust. This means that all private providers have to undertake to accept students affected by a school closure onto an equivalent course, with no fees involved.

On top of this, a National Assurance Fund is also maintained to pay out a refund to students if an alternative course that is found is not acceptable. “If the student cannot be placed for some reason, then they can receive a refund from the National Assurance Fund,” details Blundell. “This is operated at a national, cross-sectoral level and is funded by annual levies charged to all private providers.”

In no other country are there safeguards across the entire industry, which are part-and-parcel of the required accreditation process. From March, the UK has had a compulsory accreditation requirement for language schools accepting student visa holders from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), but not all operators in the country are required to be accredited (those accepting EEA students only can operate without accreditation). However, British Council-accredited language schools do undertake to guarantee alternative tuition in the case of closure of another BC-accredited centre, while a central fund can cover accommodation payments if necessary.

Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, which manages the fund, says that the Student Emergency Support Fund was set up in 1993. This ensures that accommodation can be continued for students while they are placed at another centre to finish their studies – or as much of their studies as they paid for. He explains, “Other member centres are under a duty to provide courses at the equivalent level and length free of charge, again for as long as the students have made prepayment.” He says that the emergency fund has swelled to about UK£100,000 (US$149,925) and is generally only called upon once every two years.  

Differently from the other schemes mentioned above, “The fund does not pay refunds and students have to go to the centres where we place them on equivalent courses.” This is similar to the scheme operated by members of Languages Canada. Linda Auzins explains, “There are no refunds, but students will get the training they paid for.” She says that all members agree to abide by this policy, which has been called into effect on a few occasions. “The Language Exchange in Toronto was the most recent in December 2007 and we also implemented this policy with the Gateway 21 students,” she says – referring to the generous placement of Japanese clients placed by bankrupt Japanese agency Gateway 21, which failed to pass on payment for its students’ fees (see LTM, December 2008, page 8).

All these efforts are highly commendable, and shine the spotlight on what may be the single biggest reason for agencies to consider working with certain association/accreditation bodies. Most other school associations contacted for this feature did not respond, while Feltom in Malta said this is being discussed currently by the executive, and ABLS in the UK indicated that since receiving government approval for its accreditation service, this may also be considered.

Other problems that students may face

“The basic problem is pickpocketing,” says Alberto del Mela of Scuola Toscana in Italy, talking about rationales used for crisis management at his school. He points out that his school complies with “standard procedures of emergency situations” as outlined by the Ministry of Education, underlining that students are briefed about how to prevent pickpocketing as well as what to do should it occur.

Jose Berendse of Amauta Spanish School (which has branches in Peru and Argentina) relates that it is only “minor health issues and robbery” that have ever been a problem at their schools. “In Buenos Aires, the local government provides this kind of [emergency] instruction for all staff members (in case of fire, earthquakes, etc),” she says, noting that in Cusco there are less formal guidelines in place.

Claudia J Ford at Rhode Island College of Design in the USA, simply says that she knows of no professional practice guidelines in the area of crisis management, although they do brief students about crisis avoidance. And Mark Waistell at Accent International in the UK says that a staff handbook details policy on dealing with emergencies and Accreditation UK requires a risk assessment to be undertaken by all schools.

Wyse Work Abroad, an association with members active in the work/travel industry, decided this year to provide guidelines for members about press/media relations and crisis management. Elizabeth O’Neill at the association explains, “I would say that each organisation should absolutely have a plan in place and staff well-trained on crisis management procedures – even if they only work with small numbers of participants each year.”

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student

English Australia
Feltom Malta  
International House
      World Organisation
Languages Canada /
      Langues Canada  
Perth Education City

Feltom Malta  
LTM Star Awards  

Hub and Spoke
      Connections Limited

Malta Tourism

BASP (Buenos Aires
      Spanish School)
Ecela - Latin
      (Argentina, Chile,
Ability Education
Embassy CES  
English Australia  
Geos Oceania
      (Australia, New
Language Studies
      (Canada, France,
Pacific Gateway
      International College
Perth Education City
Southbank Institute
      Of Technology  
University of
University of Western
      Sydney College  

Berlitz Canada
Bow Valley College
Camber College
English Bay College
Hansa Language
      Centre of Toronto  
IH Toronto  
King George
      International College
Languages Canada /
      Langues Canada  
Ottawa International
      Student Programmes
Richmond School
      District #38  
Stewart College of
Vancouver English

Bell International 
      (Malta, UK) 
International House
      World Organisation
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
LAL Language and
      (Canada, Cyprus,
      Ireland, England,
      South Africa, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)
London Metropolitan
Malvern House
      College London  
Shakespeare College
St Clare's Oxford
Study Group
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Queen Ethelburga's
Twin Group
      (Ireland, UK, USA)
University of Essex -

Alliance Française
      Paris Ile de France  
Universite de Paris
SILC - Séjours
      (England, France,

International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

Genki Japanese
      and Culture School  
Kai Japanese
      Language School  
      Language School  

      University of Creative

Clubclass Residential
      Language School  
Feltom Malta  
Malta Tourism

The University
      Of Auckland -
      Massey University  

Pamplona Learning
      Spanish Institute  

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, England,
      France, Germany,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Singapore,
      South Africa, Spain,

Angelo State
Arizona State
Brown University  
inlingua Language
      Service Center  
Syracuse University
University of Arizona
University of
      California Riverside  
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)