The consumer watchdog targets a major vocational trainer for alleged misconduct
Apr 2, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
A bid to retrieve $210 million from yet another allegedly shonky training provider has been launched by the Australian consumer watchdog.
The Australian Institute of Professional Education (AIPE) is the latest in a string of companies to be prosecuted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in a crackdown on dishonest operators in the scandal-plagued vocational education and training sector.
It was deregistered by the Australian Skills Quality Authority this week after an audit found it “critically non-compliant” with training standards.
More than 8000 students at AIPE-run institutions are now in limbo as the college answers allegations of “unconscionable conduct”.
It is suspected to have targeted illiterate, intellectually disabled and vulnerable people, luring them into thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.
Much of that debt, incurred through the Government’s VET FEE-HELP loans scheme, is unlikely ever to be repaid by students as they either fail to finish courses or don’t achieve the salary level at which they are required to start paying it off.
AIPE joins the Phoenix Institute, Unique International College and Cornerstone Investments in being targeted by ACCC legal action seeking the return of more than $460 million in taxpayer funding.
Acquire Learning is being pursued on similar claims.
In 2014, AIPE received $111 million in Commonwealth funding - after handing out just 117 diplomas to its 8000 students.
The ACCC will allege in the Federal Court that the company made false and misleading representations in enrolling thousands of people from disadvantaged communities using incentives such as new laptops, internet access and mobile phone credit.
Training courses costing up to $20,000 were allegedly marketed by AIPE as free through the loan scheme.
The ACCC claims a number of students who were enrolled in online courses had “limited reading and writing skills, could not use a computer and were not able to use email”.
Vocational Education Minister Scott Ryan has welcomed the legal action, saying that the government “has already taken more than a dozen measures to crack down on vocational education providers who are flouting regulations”.
An AIPE spokeswoman said the company “seeks to comply with all of its obligations under the Australian consumer law and has volunteered significant amounts of information to the ACCC to demonstrate this”.
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