By MONIQUE DEVEREUX
The accreditation of a controversial alternative health course has been withdrawn, leaving its 31 international students, who are in New Zealand on temporary visas, in limbo.
Immigration officials will visit the Phenomena Academy, near Te Anau, on Monday to work through the students' options, while the course management starts working on re-establishing its accreditation.
The academy, which is run out of the remote Takaro Lodge in Fiordland, is based on the teachings of Chinese woman Aiping Wang and according to its website costs, on average $687, a day.
It claims to improve the quality of life though learning about the body's energy
"Optional extras", such as a 30-minute private session with Aiping Wang, cost $700. The 40-week diploma course costs $88,888.
A TV3 20/20 programme revealed that two of Aiping Wang's students had died of cancer and implied that her academy's preference for alternative medicine had convinced them not to seek conventional medical help.
But academy general manager Sarah McCrum denied that.
The Qualifications Authority accredited the Phenomena Academy to run two courses but began an investigation after receiving complaints about the programmes four months ago.
The original complaints about course content were not substantiated but the investigation uncovered "other deficiencies".
The accreditation was withdrawn, and the academy appealed.
This week, the authority's appeals committee upheld the decision on the basis that the academy "was not offering the course programme it had been accredited for".
"Its assessment of students was also inadequate and there was a lack of proper documentation," the committee said.
Authority representatives visited the academy yesterday to explain the decision to the students.
Ms McCrum said the authority made it clear there were no plans to deport any students.
"They want to make sure that every student is able do what they want to do and have offered us all the help that we can to re-establish the accreditation."
She said courses would continue over the weekend but none of the work the students did would be officially recognised.
"But these aren't the kind of students who think, 'Oh yay, we've got a free day'."
She accepted that although the teachings of her organisation were "completely different" to other educational facilities, rules and regulations for running courses still had to be followed.
"And it wasn't that we were trying not to follow them or anything," Ms McCrum said. "Actually I've learned a lot today and I think a lot of it is just simply misunderstanding."
Immigration rules mean that to gain an international student visa, applicants must prove they have enough money to get home.