Educational empire atop a $2 shop: college owned by South Asian feels the heat

An educational empire atop a $2 shop! If conscienceless, it is too easy to get rich.

A disgraced institution allegedly paid up to $2000 in cash to students to make them sign papers that enrolled them into Commonwealth-funded courses at the Granville-based Unique International College Pty Ltd, a media report said today. Some of these targeted students could not even read what they were signing for, it is understood.

The institution in question is accused of using many ‘unconscionable’ tactics to lure students including providing misleading information about the Commonwealth’s educational assistance programmes like VET FEE-HELP.

Amarjit Khela, who is apparently a ‘prominent’ personality known within Sydney’s Indian and Nepalese communities, is the CEO of the now de-registered enterprise.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said on Wednesday that  Mr Khela’s company used various tactics to head-hunt prospective students  just the way sales people do which the watchdog said was not acceptable.

Amarjit Khela
Amarjit Khela, Unique CEO

The ACCC and the Commonwealth have instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Unique, a statement of the former said on 27 October.

The proceedings are the result of a joint investigation by ACCC and NSW Fair Trading.

According to Sydney Morning Herald, the CEO of the college is originally from Nawanshahr in the Indian state of Punjab and arrived in the country some 17 years ago.

The daily has so far published three probing reports into the lifestyle of the man which is instantly enviable, perhaps so even to former prime ministers of Australia. Pictures of his properties which the chose not to publish are fit either for kings or BRW Rich listers!

“Unique sells VET FEE-HELP Diploma courses, costing from $22,000 to $25,000 per course, using face-to-face marketing, including door-to-door sales. In the 2014-15 financial year, Unique enrolled over 3,600 students in their Diploma courses and was paid approximately $57 million by the Commonwealth in respect of those enrolments,” the ACCC statement said.

The joint investigation also unveiled that Unique offered free laptops to prospective students and  provided incomplete and misleading information to lure vulnerable students.

The ‘unconscionable’ acts of its ‘salesforce’ were not limited to members of Mr Khela’s own community as is often the case when it comes to backyard colleges that rely on a particular niche market depending on the background of the related proprietors. Unique appears to have gone a step ahead as it stands accused of targeting disabled and illiterate students in remote Aboriginal communities.

Sales people of the institution made rounds of these pocket markets with ‘boxes’ of laptops to be handed to potential students.

The inducements of laptops was so great that ‘people who could not read the forms were being signed up for courses in marketing’, according to the ACCC.

Unique, however, has a terrible track record.

“Only 2.4 per cent of the consumers (students) who signed up to and commenced Unique’s courses between 1 July 2014 and 30 December 2014 completed their course,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“The matter has been filed in the Federal Court’s Sydney Registry. The first Directions Hearing is set for 24 November 2015 at 9.30am before Justice Perram.”

Mr Khela is reported to have said that his college would ‘strenuously’ defend against the court proceedings.

Should Unique lose defence, Mr Khela and his company may well end up paying tens of millions back to the Commonwealth.

Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) recently de-registered Unique.

Mr Sims has warned at least 10 such colleges are under investigation out of which two may face similar actions as early as by Christmas.

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