New Zealand National College was sentenced in the Auckland District Court on Thursday afternoon. (File photo)
A former Auckland business school has been fined $36,000 after pleading guilty to stealing money from its international students.
Universal Education Group, which traded as New Zealand National College, was charged with six counts of theft by a person in a special relationship on August 5, 2019.
The charges were laid by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) after it investigated “abnormalities” in refunds to international students.
The college pleaded guilty to charges on November 20, 2020.
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Judge Allison Sinclair sentenced the company in the Auckland District Court on Thursday afternoon.
She said New Zealand National College operated as a private training establishment providing programmes and training schemes for business diplomas.
Some students paid their tuition fees through agencies, but most of them made payments direct to the college.
All deposited fees were required to go through an independent trustee and be held in a trust. That meant refunds could be given to students if a course was unable to be delivered.
When Universal’s registration was cancelled, students were entitled to a refund of tuition fees.
Through an investigation, NZQA found the company had misappropriated at least six international students’ fees which meant they didn’t have the correct funds allocated to them.
NZQA found the company had intentionally failed to deposit some fees to the trust after receiving the money from students, and used other students’ balances to conceal the missing funds.
Judge Sinclair said the college had the students sign a document which said how much money was owing to them – but it was less than what they were entitled to, meaning the fraudulent activity was concealed.
Judge Sinclair said NZQA had not been able to find out what happened to the missing funds but after the shortfall was discovered, New Zealand National College shareholder Di (Evan) Wu made payments into the trust account in March 2018.
In her sentencing, Judge Sinclair said the offending risked damaging New Zealand’s international reputation.
The offending was premeditated, planned, and “reasonably sophisticated” given the forms students were asked to sign to cover the fraudulent activity, she said.
The college abused its position and breached the trust its students had in it, she said.
An end fine of $36,000 to be split evenly across all six charges was imposed. Wu would pay that fine, the court heard.
In a media release from November 2020, NZQA chief executive Dr Grant Klinkum said what the college had done was 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.”