Students furious after debts bigger than expected

Thousands of students ripped off by dodgy vocational education providers have complained to the Federal Government’s independent watchdog.
Thousands of students ripped off by dodgy vocational education providers have complained to the Federal Government’s independent watchdog.Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Thousands of students ripped off by dodgy vocational education providers have complained to the Federal Government’s independent watchdog, highlighting widespread bad behaviour in the sector.

In its first report since being established in July, the Commonwealth Ombudsman for VET Student Loans reveals it was flooded with complaints in its first three months, with almost 3000 people reporting bad behaviour, and an average of 275 complaints a week in the first eight weeks.

About 8 per cent of the complaints came from students in WA, while most were about operators in NSW and Queensland.

Most complaints relate to the enrolment behaviour of providers, including colleges signing people up to courses and debts without their knowledge.

Typically, students discover the debt when it appears on their student loan account or when the Australian Taxation Office asks them to pay back the course fees. Some complainants allege providers offered inducements, including cash payments, to get them to enrol, with some being told the courses were free.

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The number of complaints has meant 1771 of the 2917 received were still being assessed.

Assistant Minister for Vocational Education Karen And-rews said the Ombudsman had been set up to restore confidence in the system after the “disastrous” expansion of the VET FEE HELP Scheme under the Labor government.

The Government scrapped the scheme in 2016, replacing it with VET Student Loans.

“The VSL is protecting the interests of students and saving taxpayers hundreds of millions … by ending the rorts and dodgy practices of training providers that flourished under the VFH Scheme,” Ms Andrews said.

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