Auckland business school pleads guilty to theft after failing to fully refund students

A defunct Auckland business school has pleaded guilty to stealing money from international students.

The guilty plea by New Zealand National College (NZNC) came after an investigation into abnormalities in the refunds given to students after the college closed in 2017.

Students, who had mainly come from China and India, were charged between $10,000 and $16,000 for a one-year business diploma at the college on Queen St.

But they were only repaid about half of their fees when the New Zealand Qualifications Authority deregistered NZNC in 2017. The school was deregistered because of concerns about its programme delivery and quality assessments.

After its closure, NZQA found “serious and significant breaches” in its student fee protection rules, the authority said in a statement.

Private Training Establishments were required to protect student fees with an approved trustee. But NZNC was found to have misappropriated student fees, which led to a deficit in the money available for refunds to students who were affected by the college’s deregistration.

In some instances, NZNC was found to have intentionally failed to deposit some student fees to a trust. In other cases, fees were used to conceal missing money within the trust.

NZQA laid six charges of theft by a person in a special relationship in August. The college pleaded guilty during a hearing at Auckland District Court on Friday.

It will be sentenced on January 14. The charges carry a penalty of up to seven years in jail.

NZQA chief executive Grant Klinkum said breaches of the Student Fee Protection Rules were a serious matter.

“Where providers have breached the rules and are not meeting the standards we expect of them, NZQA will take action to uphold the law and ensure the integrity of New Zealand’s tertiary education system.

“That is exactly what we have done in this case and these convictions are a pleasing outcome.”

The company that operated the school, Universal Education Group Ltd, is fully owned by Di Wu of Hobson St, Auckland, Companies Office records show.

The company has failed to file annual returns and was in the process of being removed from the Companies Register.

After the college was deregistered, at least 40 students who were doing the Level 7 diploma were unable to find another school that would take them because their English was not good enough.

NZQA found other schools to take students in Levels 5 and 6 courses.

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