A private college run by a multi-millionaire Indian in a one-room campus in Sydney has been accused of pushing disabled and disadvantaged students from poor aboriginal communities into signing up for expensive courses by making false and misleading representations.
The Unique International College owned by Amarjit Khela came under scrutiny this week for its alleged “unconscionable conduct” in poor rural areas targeting disabled and illiterate students from remote aboriginal communities.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in a statement said that a joint investigation along with New South Wales Fair Trading into the conduct of private colleges had instituted proceedings in Federal Court against the Unique College.
The college was selling vocational diploma courses costing upto 25,000 Australian dollars by using face-to-face marketing and door-to-door sales, and had managed to enroll over 3,600 students in their diploma courses, it said.
The proceedings alleged that the college made false or misleading representations and engaged in misleading or deceptive and unconscionable conduct, in breach of Australian Consumer Law, when selling the courses between July 2014 and September 2015 in NSW.
The ACCC’s statement of claim filed in Federal Court on Wednesday said that the students that were allegedly targeted by the college were often from aboriginal housing missions in the state’s most disadvantaged areas such as Walgett, Boggabilla and Bourke.
Students were allegedly told nothing at all about the courses or that the courses in salon management, marketing and business management were free as long as they never earned more than 50,000 Australian dollars a year.
It was also alleged that the college’s conduct, including its marketing and enrollment system and its dealings with some consumers was, in all the circumstances, unconscionable, in contravention of the laws.
The college’s founder and CEO, Amarjit Khela, has gone into hiding, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The college’s registration was cancelled in October after it received 42 million Australian dollar in Commonwealth funding despite only 2.4% of its more than 800 students completing courses, the daily said.
“Only 2.4% of the consumers who signed up to and commenced Unique’s courses between July-December last year completed their course,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“It is alleged that the sales process used by Unique included free incentives, unfair tactics and the failure to provide clear and accurate information about the price of the courses and the nature of the loan,” NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said.
The matter was filed in the Federal Court in Sydney and the first hearing was set for November 24.
The ACCC was now asking the court to make the college repay the 57 million Australian dollars it has received to date in Commonwealth government funding.
Khela, who had arrived in Australia in 1998, in a statement said that his college would strongly defend allegations by ACCC.
“Unique has sought at all times to comply with the relevant regulations and standards for private education providers, in the interests of providing our students with quality education and training outcomes,” he said.