Meridian colleges close, students anxious and frightened
INTERNATIONAL students unable to graduate following the closure of the Meridian schools remain in limbo, and are anxious, frightened and extremely upset, says Australian international student lobby group AFIS.
More than 2000 students were only two weeks from finishing when four Meridian schools in Melbourne and Sydney closed.
Australian Federation of International Students president Wesa Chau, who has been working closely with the affected students, said none of them were warned about the closures.
“The sudden closure of the colleges meant that students who were days away from finishing their courses were left stranded,” Ms Chau said.
“They were preparing for their final exams, so the last thing they were expecting was to be told they couldn’t take their exams and return home.
“Now they’re being put on hold, they don’t know what’s going on and the instability of the entire situation is making them feel very anxious.”
The four colleges were closed mid-lesson after the group that ran them, Global Campus Management, went into voluntary administration on November 6. They were the Meridian International School, Meridian International Hotel School, International Design School and International College of Creative Arts.
Affected students met with the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) on November 9 and were told they would be transferred to other private colleges.
ACPET chief executive Andrew Smith said in a statement the education and immigration departments were working as quickly as possible to transfer students.
“It’s obviously a very distressing time for students involved and we’ll be doing all we can to offer support as well as help them transition to a comparable course,” Mr Smith said.
“It is our absolute priority to minimise the impact on students.”
But Ms Chau said the ACPET should do more in partnership with the State Government.
“The students are scared about being transferred. They just want to be with their friends,” she said.
“Many have had to change their plans and this will cost some of them thousands of dollars in living expenses, but they’re being told no one will refund their courses or compensate for their lost time or money. The only thing the government has so far offered is to wave their student application fees.”
A number of Meridian staff members were reported to have offered to run the cancelled courses until the end of the college year.
This offer was rejected by ACPET.
President of the National Union of Students (NUS) David Barrow said the State Government should pay staff and let the students complete their courses.
“These students are shocked that so closed to the end, through no fault of their own, they have had their lives thrown up into the air,” Mr Barrow said
“If the state governments of Victoria and NSW can pay staff wages for the last two weeks of term, hundreds of students will finish their course and can return home.”
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Senator Chris Evans said the $540 student visa application charge would be waved for all students who required a new visa in order to complete their studies at another college.
“We understand that these situations are not the fault of the student and the introduction of a fee exemption will ensure they are not shouldered with an additional financial burden,” Mr Evans said.
In a statement, Minister for Education and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard also offered support to affected students and said the Federal Government was taking steps to ensure no more schools or colleges would close.
These steps included amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act, currently being debated in the House of Representatives, requiring the re-registration of all international education provicers in Australia.