ACCC strikes against six training companies

The ACCC has taken action against a number of providers in a bid to recoup some of the money taken, starting a number of Federal Court proceedings.

Case One: Unique International College Pty Ltd (Unique)

Action taken: October, 2015

ACCC alleged: Unique enrolled more than 3600 students in diploma courses in 2014-15 financial year, pocketing about $57 million from Federal Government. Students enticed with free laptops, told courses were free and remote and low socio-economic students were targeted. Only 2.4% of students who signed up to and started courses between July 1 and December 30, 2014, actually completed courses.

Outcome: Federal Court proceedings ongoing.

Case Two: Cornerstone Investment Aust Pty Ltd (trading as Empower Institute)

Action taken: December, 2015

ACCC alleged: Between March 2014 and October 2015 Empower enrolled more than 10,000 students into Diploma courses, triggering more than $90 million in Commonwealth Government payments. Students offered free laptops and cash incentives to sign up and enrol. People with very poor literacy and numeracy skills targeted.

Outcome: Federal Court proceedings ongoing.

Case Three: Phoenix Institute of Australia Pty Ltd and Community Training Initiatives

Action taken: November, 2015

ACCC alleged: Phoenix, through its trading name Mytime Learning, enrolled more than 9000 students between January and October, 2015, mostly into double diplomas. The Federal Government paid Phoenix more than $100 million for the enrolments, with laptops used as inducements. Community Training Initiatives alleged to have provided admin support and help process the enrolments.

Outcome: Federal Court proceedings ongoing.

Case Four: Australian Institute of Professional Education Pty Ltd

Action taken: March, 2016

ACCC alleged: About 15,000 students enrolled between January 1 and December 1, 2015, earning the provider more than $210.9 million from the Federal Government. Loan laptops offered as free, wi-fi access and mobile phone credits also used as inducements.

Outcome: Federal Court proceedings ongoing.

Case Five: Acquire Learning and Careers Pty Ltd

Action taken: December, 2015

ACCC alleged: Acquire marketed VET FEE-HELP courses on behalf of a number of training providers with course costs ranging from $19,000 to $52,000. Vulnerable consumers were taken advantage of using unfair sales tactics to pressure consumers to enrol and apply for government loans.

Outcome: Federal Court proceedings ongoing.

Case Six: Careers Australia Group Limited

Action taken: May, 2016 - announcement made that Careers Australia had agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking to repay the Commonwealth Government for courses not yet started.

Why: Careers Australia admitted it had misled students through its door-to-door marketing agents, who offered iPads and laptops to students for free, provided they signed up for a course, including 80 people from Aboriginal community Yarrabah told they wouldn't incur a debt when they signed up.

Between August 1, 2013 and March 31, 2015, Careers Australia processed applications for about 40,000 students. Of those, 20,242 enrolled, resulting in about $190 million in payments from the Federal Government.

Who: Careers Australia managing director Patrick McKendry was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Vocational Education and Training Advisory Board in August, 2014, becoming a member of a key advisory to the Abbott government.

Mr McKendry was a former chairman of TVET Australia and also worked as an advisor to the Queensland Government on education and training.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in February, 2015, that Mr McKendry stood down from his role on the Advisory Board while allegations of free laptop inducements and more were investigated.

As of May last year Careers Australia had cancelled at least 12,130 student enrolments and repaid or partially repaid loans of $44.3 million to the Federal Government.

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