By Rhonda Dredge
The setting is like that of a Gothic novel. A dark laneway leads beside the Careers Australia building in Flinders St where plotters can be overheard, working on means of getting an education.
Some have paid fees of $25,000 to study online for a diploma that will allow them to work in the nursing profession but they’ve been told they will have to start again.
There were rumours a month ago. Now students have been locked out of their campus and they’re coming out of the shadows to protest. They feel like targets of an unscrupulous industry.
The lights of Careers Australia were still shining in the window when the protestors arrived, pumping out slogans, even though the receivers were now in control.
The for-profit educational company rose to become the largest VET provider in Australia with 15,000 students at 13 campuses around the country and a vigorous marketing presence on the internet.
The company’s Facebook page is full of helpful hints for students such as the prophetic: “Consider keeping a ‘learning log’ to ensure you learn from your mistakes, as well as your successes.”
Come Monday morning and online students are usually opening their laptops to complete their assignments but not now. It’s time for them to consider their mistakes.
One protestor paid a fee of $5000 just two days before the company went into receivership, two weeks after the Federal Government refused to continue funding the company with student loans.
The protestors are furious. Most of them have signed up for a diploma of nursing. Many of them are international students who have been lured here and have paid upfront.
Now, with just four months to go before completion of the diploma the hard reality of education politics has slammed the door on students, locking them out of the careers they so desired.
“The director left two weeks ago,” said one protestor. “Some text messages have been sent out but they told us nothing.”
Teachers have been dismissed without pay and the course code changed, say the protestors, so they won’t be able to transfer with credits to other courses.
Come Tuesday and the doors are still locked on the historic Flinders St building, designed to reflect the architectural qualities of St Paul’s next door.
A notice on the door provides the Brisbane phone number of the receivers. A man arrives and phones someone inside. He is an accountant, a former employee of a subsidiary of the company. He is let in.
“I don’t feel good about it all,” he said, refusing to give his name.
Other education providers have been swift to capitalise on the collapse. At the top of Google is an offer to students from a TAFE but when you click, all you get is a standard enquiry form, complete with a secret security code, similar to the one that got you into trouble in the first place.
And when you phone the Brisbane number, a spokeswoman passes you on to a PR spokesman in Sydney. You call the number and he’s in a meeting, building his own career.