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Private tertiary students free complaints service

New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers (NZAPEP)


21 January 2005

Students in private tertiary courses get free complaints service

More than 15,000 tertiary students enrolling in 2005 with private education providers will be covered by a free complaints resolution service.

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 who are enrolled with participating providers get free access to an independent Quality Commissioner who deals with disputes that have not been resolved internally by providers.

Currently 80 private providers have joined the scheme nationally, giving around 15,700 fee-paying students access to the free service.

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

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 scheme is free to students because it is fully funded by providers. The providers who have joined this scheme are very confident about the quality of their service. They are saying they treat every student fairly,” said Sandra McKersey.

Sandra McKersey says the Quality Commission should make people stop and think about the quality of private tertiary education.

“This should put an end to much of the nonsense talked about the quality of private providers. The government and TEC say private providers play an integral and valuable role in tertiary education in this country,” said Sandra McKersey.

“This year 87 of our courses have been granted an additional $9.8 million from TEC’s Strategic Priorities Fund, a fund designed to promote innovation in tertiary education. That is our strength. We tend to be smaller and more specialised than polytechs. That makes us better able to keep in touch with local needs,” 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, said where schemes like the Quality Commission have been introduced in other industries, complaints have dropped by about 50%.

“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.

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

The scheme is 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.
Release ends

Details of the Quality Commission scheme are attached.

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.


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