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New student complaints scheme

New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers (NZAPEP)

Wednesday 15 September 2004

Private education providers introduce new student complaints scheme

Private education providers today announced details of a free complaints resolution service to be available for students from January 2005.

The move has been welcomed by the Tertiary Education Minister, government agencies, the Consumers’ Institute and students.

A new Quality Commission has been set up by the New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers (NZAPEP) to resolve complaints from students who feel they have not had a fair deal in their tertiary courses.

Students will get free access to an independent Quality Commissioner who will deal with disputes that have not been resolved internally by providers.

The Commissioner will have the power to order full reimbursement of fees, expenses and compensation up to $2000.

The first Quality Commissioner will be Nadja Tollemache, former government Ombudsman and Banking Ombudsman.

The scheme will be governed by an independent Commission chaired by John Hinchcliffe, retiring vice-chancellor of the Auckland University of Technology. David Russell, Chief Executive of the Consumers’ Institute is also on the Commission.

NZAPEP President Sandra McKersey said the Quality Commission was a sign that mature private education providers are taking responsibility for the quality of the services they provide.

“The commission shows we are prepared to stand up as professionals and guarantee what we do,” said Sandra McKersey.
“High profile closures of a few private providers last year left a distorted impression of private tertiary education in this country. NZAPEP represents 365 providers, nearly half of all private training establishments registered with NZQA, and we expect most of them will join the Quality Commission scheme,” said Sandra McKersey.

“The scheme will be free to students because it is fully funded by providers. It’s a clear signal that our members are prepared to take professional responsibility for their own quality,” said Sandra McKersey. “This introduces a degree of self-regulation for private providers. Providers who put money into this scheme will need to be very confident that they treat every student fairly,” said Sandra McKersey.

“It’s not a sign that we are unhappy with other options students have. Students can complain to NZQA and they will probably continue to do so. The difference with this scheme is that it is designed to resolve individual disputes quickly,” said Sandra McKersey.

The Quality Commission scheme has been welcomed by the government, the Consumers’ Institute, top education officials and students.

David Russell, Chief Executive of the Consumers’ Institute and an inaugural member of the Quality Commission, said where schemes like the Quality Commission have been introduced in other industries, complaints have dropped by about 50%.

“Participants do seem to improve the quality of their service when they commit to these schemes,” said David Russell.

“We welcome arrangements like this. The Quality Commission scheme takes the overarching provisions of the Consumer Guarantees Act and makes them specific to the quite complex situations that can arise in education,” said David Russell.

Tertiary Education Minister Steve Maharey commended NZAPEP for introducing the Quality Commission and pledged the government’s support.

(See also Minister’s conference speech.)

Qualifications Authority Chief Executive Karen Van Rooyen said the service will complement the role of the Qualifications Authority and provide a valuable service to dissatisfied students.
”It is vitally important that students with complaints about the quality of courses report them to NZQA. NZQA will work closely with the Commission to enhance the quality of the providers who join the scheme,” said Ms Van Rooyen.

Ann Clark, General Manager of the Tertiary Education Commission, said the setting up of the Quality Commission indicates that private providers are determined to provide secure and responsible services to learners.

“Government, students, parents and employers make a huge investment in tertiary education and it is good that the sector is taking some responsibility for raising the quality of private providers,” said Ann Clark.

Lester Oakes, Chief Executive of the Career Services, said the advent of
Quality Commission adds a welcome dimension to the factors
potential students need to consider in choosing a provider, especially in light of the large investment they are making in their education.

Trish van Bussel, a student at the Institute of Fashion Technology in Auckland said enrolling with a Quality Commission signatory would be very reassuring. "I would have the confidence that my needs and those of the industry I intend to work in were being met and that any issues that arose would be addressed.”

A brief explanation

What is the Quality Commission scheme?

The scheme has been set up by NZAPEP but the Quality Commission itself is independent. It consists of five members: a chair, a consumer representative, a ministerial representative and two members appointed by the NZAPEP Executive. The Commission employs a Quality Commissioner.

The Quality Commissioner provides a free complaints resolution service for students enrolled with participating education providers. The scheme is free to students because it is fully funded from fees paid by participating providers.

The Quality Commissioner is a last resort for students who have been through the provider’s internal complaints process but are still not satisfied. Students can also go to the Quality Commissioner if a dispute is deadlocked after two months.

The Quality Commissioner can recommend settlements up to the full cost of the services provided, plus incidental expenses and a maximum of $2000 compensation.

Participating providers undertake to abide by the Commissioner’s recommendation (or immediately withdraw from the scheme).

This is a free, independent and easily accessed service that respects the rights of students and providers. The scheme starts from 1 January 2005.

How does the Quality Commission complaints service differ from other options students have?

The Quality Commissioner aims to resolve specific disputes that individual students have with a provider. Students can complain to NZQA but NZQA does not run a mediation service and does not direct providers on how to resolve specific disputes. Students could take legal action against a provider but this can be costly and time-consuming.


The Quality Commission

How does the Quality Commission work?

If a student has a complaint about any aspect of the service they have purchased from a provider, they should use the provider’s internal complaints process.

If they are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal complaints process - or are still deadlocked after two months - students can lodge a complaint with the Quality Commissioner.

The Commissioner decides whether the complaint comes within the scope of the scheme and what procedure to follow. For example, the Commissioner will not deal with an issue that is before a court or other statutory complaints or conciliation procedure.

The Commissioner will refer the complaint back to the provider if internal procedures have not been followed.

The student’s provider is given full details of the complaint and is asked to respond - but personal information is protected.

Having considered the complaint, the Commissioner can promote a settlement between the student and the provider.

If this does not work, the Commissioner can recommend a resolution, including a monetary settlement.

The Commissioner can recommend settlements up to the full cost of the services, plus incidental expenses and a maximum of $2000 compensation.

Settlements are full and final - providers must accept the Commissioner’s recommendation - and if students accept the settlement they can not pursue other avenues.


Quality Commission scheme welcomed by consumer advocate, government education officials and students

(See also comments made at the NZAPEP conference by Tertiary Education Minister Hon Steve Maharey.)

David Russell, Chief Executive of the Consumers’ Institute and an inaugural member of the Quality Commission:

“We welcome arrangements like this. The Quality Commission scheme takes the overarching provisions of the Consumer Guarantees Act and makes them specific to the quite complex situations that can arise in education.

The scheme is based on a Code of Practice that participating providers will have to sign up to so it so it is soundly based and can be responsive to changing times.

In other industries where similar schemes have been introduced, complaints have dropped by around 50%. Participants do seem to improve the quality of their service when they commit to these schemes.”

Ann Clark, General Manager, Tertiary Education Commission:

“Appointing an independent quality commission to resolve student complaints is a worthwhile move by private education providers.” “Setting up the Quality Commission indicates that private education providers are determined to provide secure and responsible services to individual learners.” “Government, students, parents and employers make a huge investment in tertiary education and it is good that the sector is taking some responsibility for raising the quality of private providers.”

Karen Van Rooyen, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority: “The Quality Commission scheme will provide a valuable service for
dissatisfied students in complementing the role of the Qualifications
Authority.

”While it's not up to NZQA to mediate in disputes between students and
providers, it is vitally important that students with complaints about
the quality of courses, report them to NZQA. We will investigate, and
if problems are found, we will take appropriate action to ensure
providers put things right.

”NZQA will work closely with the Commission to enhance the quality of
the providers who join the scheme.

Lester Oakes, Chief Executive of Career Services rapuara:

"Career Services rapuara is committed to assisting learners to make
informed decisions about their tertiary education. The advent of
NZAPEP's Quality Commission adds a welcome dimension to the factors
potential students need to consider in choosing a provider.

”The option to choose a provider offering free independent complaints
resolution if things go wrong will be an attractive one for many
learners, especially in light of the large personal and financial
investment they are making in their education."

Trish van Bussel, a student at the New Zealand Institute of Fashion Technology, Wellesley Street, Auckland:

"Being able to study at an institution that has the integrity to become a signatory to the NZAPEP Quality commission would be very reassuring for me. I would have the confidence that my needs, and that of the industry I intend to work in were being met and that any issues that arose would be addressed.

“And anyway this raises the educational benchmark to match our government's goal of New Zealand becoming a niche provider of quality product on the international marketplace."

ENDS


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