As the crisis in Vocational Education deepens, another student is fighting back by taking on education provider Open Colleges in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Tanea Ferris (a 52 year old single mother of 3) of Hoppers Crossing was signed up to study online for a Diploma of Interior Design and Decoration with Open Colleges Pty Ltd in February 2014. It is alleged that Open Colleges breached the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) by engaging in unfair sales tactics. This included its sales representative telling Ms Ferris that enrolling in the course would make her deceased mother happy.
The ‘outline of dispute’ also alleges misleading and deceptive conduct by Open Colleges. The application claims that Ms Ferris raised concerns that the course may be too difficult for her as she had only a Year 10 education, but that she was told by the sales representative that she would pass with ‘flying colours’, downplaying the difficulty of the course.
“Private colleges should not be putting sales before education” says Consumer Action CEO Gerard Brody.
“Students looking to improve themselves can be particularly vulnerable. Sophisticated and emotionally charged sales tactics can put a business at risk of breaching the ACL”.
“One of the biggest problems our clients face in these situations is the requirement to continue paying fees even after they have withdrawn from the course.” says Mr Brody, “The Federal Government has introduced some vital reforms in this sector, but the courses like those offered by Open Colleges that charge a fee-for-service, rather than through a VET FEE-HELP loan, have so far been untouched.”
“The introduction of an industry-funded, independent Ombudsman in this sector would also assist Ms Ferris and many like her. An Ombudsman would be completely free for students, and able to resolve this case quickly, efficiently and without the need for legal representation,” says Mr Brody.
After finding the course too difficult, and being provided with insufficient online course assistance, Ms Ferris first attempted to cancel her enrolment in July 2014. Open Colleges is now using debt collectors to pursue payment. Of the $7,990.00 course fee, Ms Ferris has already paid $3,254.01.
Ms Ferris is seeking $2,000 in damages, a refund for course fees already paid and a cancellation of the amount allegedly owed to Open Colleges.
Consumer Action CEO Gerard Brody is available for interview. Tanea Ferris is available to speak to journalists, but does not wish to be filmed.