Indian owned cookery college closes down in Sydney



Melbourne: A major cookery college, once listed among Australia's 100 fastest growing companies has announced voluntary liquidation leaving hundreds of students, including a large number of Indians, with uncertain future.

Owned by an Indian migrant, Sydney-based Austech Institute for Further Education reportedly sent the news via e-mail leading to a demonstration by students who gathered to protest the decision and seek transfer to other institutes.

A number of students said they had been offered discounts of as much as 10 per cent on this semester's tuition fee if they paid in advance, 'The Australian' said in a report.

Amandeep Singh, 24, was quoted as saying that he had received a USD 400 reduction in his tuition fee after paying USD 4,600 in January.

Vikas Kumar, a 25-year old student from Haryana said he was six months into studying for an advanced diploma in hospitality management. He said he had paid USD 5,000 this semester, as well as USD 15,000 towards the cost of a diploma.

Vikas said his parents had invested their savings into his fee and also taken loan. "I'm very upset," he said.

"(They spent) 10 years' savings on my study and (now) its all finished," he was quoted as saying.

The college, founded in 2002 with 10 students in Blacktown by a former taxi driver, had a history of rapid expansion. By 2007-08 it had a USD 30.4 million turnover and was profiled by BRW magazine as one of Australia's 100 fastest growing companies. Austech had 1398 students in late 2008.

A spokesman for federal education minister Julia Gillard assured the students that they would not be left without options. They would be found placement in similar courses under the Tuition Assurance Scheme, or refunded their unused course fees through the Education Services for Overseas Students Assurance Fund, the spokesman said.

A 2008 audit by state regulators found Austech in breach of state and federal standards. The college did not have enough kitchens for its 1622 current and 571 pending students.

Some students were found to be enrolled for more than a year before they were given any practical kitchen experience, according to the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

The regulator, the Vocational Education Training Accreditation Board, ordered the college to refund USD 2.1 million in fees to 350-odd new students but this edict was put on hold in January 2009 by the tribunal, which gave Austech a second chance.

Eight months later, VETAB moved to cancel Austech's registration, citing its failure to comply with national training standards, but it launched another successful appeal.

On Christmas Eve, the tribunal ruled in favour of Austech, approving expansion plans for the college.

In a statement yesterday, Austech's chief executive Kharak Bajwa said the "unresponsive, slow and adversarial behaviour" of VETAB had contributed to the collapse.

"One can win a case but still lose," he said.

He blamed bad publicity about attacks on Indian students and changes to migration rules. "The vocational education and training system is in turmoil at the moment," he said.

PTI