More than 40 international students at an Auckland business school say they have lost thousands of dollars after the school was shut by the NZ Qualifications Authority.
The students, mainly from China and India, were charged fees varying from $10,000 to $16,000 for a one-year business diploma at the NZ National College in Queen St, but have been repaid only about half of what they paid and don't understand why they have received varying refunds.
At least 40 students who were doing the Level 7 diploma have also been unable to find any other school that will take them because their English is not good enough to meet standards that have been tightened since they first came here.
NZQA has found other schools to take students in Levels 5 and 6 courses.
Lawyer Alastair McClymont, who is advising the 40 students, said the Government should step in and either refund the students' fees or arrange transfers to other courses.
A Korean student who started the Level 7 diploma last February, Hyun Jin Oh, said there were "well over 40" but fewer than 100 students in the course.
Oh, 29, worked in education, trading and marketing companies in South Korea before coming to New Zealand on a visitor's permit in 2016 and enrolling in the course because "I had to graduate to get the points for PR [permanent residence]".
"I just came here to visit at first, then I found this is a really beautiful country," she said.
"It's like the opposite of Asia. Asia is so competitive and stressful, this is so laid-back, I look at all the people and they are enjoying their life."
She said students had to do their own research and write essays that were marked harshly.
"I cannot really say it's quality education."
McClymont said schools were required to deposit fees from international students with the Public Trust, but Oh said students received only partial refunds via NZQA.
"I paid $10,000, I'll be getting $5000. My friend paid $16,000, she's also getting $5000. Another friend paid $14,000 and is getting $12,000," she said.
"They should give us a clear answer about the refund system. I went to a Justice of the Peace and she called NZQA for me, but they wouldn't give her an answer. At least I want to know what's going on, then I'll understand."
Oh said she would now return to Korea, but warned that the fiasco would harm New Zealand's reputation.
Migrant Workers Association organiser Anu Kaloti said students would protest outside the immigration NZ office at 280 Queen St at 2pm tomorrow.
But NZQA deputy chief executive Dr Grant Klinkum said NZQA was refunding "the amount that students submitted they had paid in their declaration to Immigration NZ at the time of the visa application".
"It is not clear why students submitted receipts for a lower amount of money than they paid and signed a declaration to that effect," he said.
"In the event that there is a disparity between the fee students paid and the funds the provider deposited in the relevant trust account, NZQA will always investigate. In this case NZQA is fully aware of the allegations, and is unable to comment further as this is a matter under investigation."
Oh said her agent did the paperwork for her.
"I just paid through the agent," she said. "I don't know how much commission the agent got from it. As far as I know the actual fee was $8000, but I asked again [after the school closed] and he [the agent] said the actual fee was $6000.
"I don't know how much is a commission for the agent and how much is the school. That's what I wanted to find out, but there are still no answers."
Klinkum said NZQA found that many students at the school were passed but should not have been passed, so it could not give students any credits for their study.
"Therefore, NZQA considered it best to offer these students a full refund of the verified course fee amount at the time of their visa application," he said.
"These students can use this refund to enrol at an alternative provider to continue their studies."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was concerned about the industry's reputation in light of such situations and was working hard to address low quality operators.
"The sector grew too big, too fast under the previous National government, which took its eye off the ball and let the overall industry down," he said.
He said students were able to go to an alternative provider subject to entry requirements.
"If they don't pass these language requirements that is an indictment on New Zealand National College for allowing the students to study in the first place and is a major reason why NZQA deregistered them."
The company that operated the school, Universal Education Group Ltd, is fully owned by Di Wu of Hobson St, Auckland, but the phone number provided when the company was registered in 2010 is no longer operating.
NZQA lists the company contact person as Evan Wu.
In a statement to the Herald on Friday morning, NZNC said it refutes the allegations.
"NZNC does operate a price differentiation policy, whereby different students may be charged different prices, in line with what they are willing to pay at the time.
"This is a common practice in the export education sector and does not contravene any legislation or rules.
"NZNC has been careful to comply with our obligations under the Student Fee Protection Rules 2013 at all times."
Students provided a mobile number for another former manager at the school, but he said he had been made redundant, was also unable to contact Evan Wu, and did not want to be named.