Poor marks for troubled foreign student schools

By Andrew Laxon

Five schools are in trouble with authorities over a range of offences. Photo / Thinkstock
Five schools are in trouble with authorities over a range of offences. Photo / Thinkstock

A series of reports reveals growing problems at a number of schools chasing the lucrative foreign student market.

Five schools for international and local students are in trouble with authorities for a range of alleged offences, including immigration breaches, student cheating and reporting dubious qualifications.

In a series of highly critical reports on four of the private tertiary-level schools mainly for foreign students, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority says it has no confidence in Oxford International Academy because of its history of excessive plagiarism, poor attendance and low course-completion rates.

It says it is difficult to have confidence in the reported pass rates and qualifications at the St George Institute of Learning, especially when the school awarded a Diploma of Management to a block course of 10 Korean students who should not have been accepted because of their poor English.

NZQA has also blocked all new enrolments at Ellipse Institute because of concerns that their results may not be genuine and says it has doubts about the validity of results from Tasman International Academies because of its history of suspect marking.

It has suspended all enrolments in tertiary-level courses at a fifth school, Victoria Institute, whose report has not yet been published.

In response, Immigration New Zealand has blocked all student visas for Ellipse and has stopped issuing visas for selected business and information technology courses at Victoria and Tasman.

The crackdown continues a dramatic turnaround from NZQA's position 18 months ago that cheating and suspect qualifications were confined to a small number of tertiary-level schools chasing the $2.3 billion-a-year international student market.

Last October deputy chief executive (quality assurance) Tim Fowler told the Weekend Herald that NZQA had closed down 16 private training establishments (PTEs) in the last two years and had a further 26 under investigation.

It was also considering the introduction of tougher English language tests after noticing an increase in multiple problems at some schools, including poor English levels and pass marks given for substandard work.

Labour's tertiary education spokesman, Grant Robertson, said the surge of new cases showed the system still needed tighter registration rules and better auditing.

"I think for those good quality providers this stuff is damaging and it's damaging for the New Zealand export education industry. I do think there's a need for stronger regulation so we don't have the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff."

An NZQA report on Oxford International Academy, which had 348 foreign students enrolled last year, said the school's repeated failure to assess students' work correctly in its main course, the NZ Diploma of Business, made its results open to question.

There had been "excessive spells of plagiarism", which continued in business courses but the school had not made any serious attempt to stop it - such as introducing computer software.

Forty-three students (one in six) were reported to Immigration NZ for failing the 80 per cent attendance requirement last year. A spot-check of student attendance records during the review found one-third failed.

The school claimed an 80 per cent completion rate for the Diploma of Business but figures received on the last day of the inspection showed a 12 per completion rate for one intake and 7 per cent for another.

The report said reviewers had "serious concerns about the college's academic effectiveness".

NZQA says the Diploma of Business course is now under review and its accreditation may be withdrawn.

Oxford's new principal, Naomi Patterson, who started in January after the review, said the school had appointed an academic manager to spread the workload and was determined to prove the worth of its programmes. "I know that there's quality here but I know that there were areas that we needed to improve."

A report on Ellipse Institute, which teaches a mix of local and overseas students on Dominion Rd, found poorly trained teachers and multiple breaches of marking procedures that undermined the school's reported results.

It said at least four out of nine students accepted for a computing course at level 7 (equivalent to a bachelor degree) were likely to fail because they did not have enough computing or education experience. The school's explanation was that the students were originally accepted for a course at level 5 (entry-level tertiary study) but when that course was not approved they were moved up to the level 7 course instead.

Students and a rest home complained when the school used a beauty services tutor to deliver her usual course in physiology and anatomy for students about to care for elderly in rest homes. The tutor rejected the criticism, saying the human body was the same in both cases.

Ellipse claimed a 100 per cent success rate for both its courses in healthcare and IT but students, staff and industry members revealed some had dropped out and failed.

Several healthcare teachers had no industry background.

The school is now not allowed to take any new students, unless it finds another NZQA-approved school to supervise its marking.

Principal Bhashkar Prasad said he believed NZQA was determined to find fault with the school. He said the first thing the reviewer asked him was: "Are you doing any dirty deals?"

A report on St George Institute of Learning questioned the validity of results, which showed 10 Korean students with very poor English received a Diploma of Management after six months instead of a year as normal.

Reviewers criticised the school for ignoring usual entry requirements and delivery standards to meet its contract with the South Korean Government, which supplied about 60 students attending in four intakes between January 2011 and April this year.

NZQA says the school is no longer allowed to deliver the accelerated course and students in its business and management diploma courses must meet stricter English language requirements by passing approved tests.

Principal Kevin Moncur admitted that "things have not gone as well as they could have" but felt his school had a far better reputation than others that had so far escaped criticism from NZQA.

"[St George] enjoys a very high regard because it has never been accused of offering visas, for example, or doing anything that's corrupt."

He said the school strongly disagreed with the report and believed the reviewers had a predetermined attitude to find fault, regardless of the evidence presented by staff.

A report on Tasman International Academies said the school was sent a compliance notice last year ordering it to improve. Reviewers found there was not enough money in the student fee trust account, 12 students did not have visas before starting their courses and the school did not check attendance properly.

The school also had a history of unreliable results - six out of seven assessments submitted for moderation (checking) last year failed to meet the national standard.

Reviewers said Tasman had made some rapid progress since the compliance notice but the school seemed to be motivated by meeting NZQA demands and its own marketing and financial needs, rather than the students' education.

Principal Dene Collison said the problems were historical and he was confident the school would pass its follow-up review in a few months. He said all eight of the papers sent for moderation in December had passed.

The academic director of Victoria Institute, J.D. Olivier, said NZQA planned to give the school a "not yet confident" rating, which he disputed, as the main findings of its unpublished report were either good or adequate. He said NZQA had blocked all new tertiary-level enrolments because of the school's poor moderation record in 2009 and 2010.

Mr Olivier said he had dramatically improved the school's systems since taking the job last year but NZQA did not take this into consideration.

- NZ Herald

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