College records hard to find
By Bernard Lane
The Australian, March 17, 2010
A private college that protested its vast storeroom made it 'nearly impossible' to find student records has been rebuked by a federal tribunal.
The Sydney-based International Institute of Business and Information Technology defended the accuracy of its attendance records before the tribunal while at the same time implying there was nothing to stop students changing them.
In a string of cases, the Migration Review Tribunal cited serious concerns about record-keeping and upheld challenges by fee-paying overseas students whose visas had been cancelled after the college reported them to immigration authorities for poor attendance.
The federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations had found grounds for concern in 14 of the 17 student cases it investigated in 2007-08, the tribunal said. Asked about any sanctions, the department yesterday said its policy was not to comment.
Surender Etikala, chief executive of the college's vocational education arm, said the concerns were news to him and the college had received a clean bill of health from NSW regulators as recently as this month. 'My records are in a good state, actually,' he said.
Universities and colleges have done lucrative business ever since the Howard government allowed students to stay in Australia after graduation and parlay their local qualifications into skilled migrant visas.
Courses at the IIBIT college include accounting, IT and English. It also delivers programs in partnership with Ballarat University in Sydney and Adelaide. The tribunal cases seen by the HES did not involve Ballarat students.
In a case last year involving a dispute about the accuracy of records, the college said attendance sheets 'are stored in a storeroom which is very vast and it is `nearly impossible' to get any particular student attendance from it', the tribunal said.
In another case, the college insisted its records were error-free but at the same time implied fakery by a student claiming good attendance.
The account given by the college was 'lacking in detail, confusing, contradictory and points to errors', the tribunal said.
Meanwhile, the tribunal said it had 48 cases affected by a Federal Court ruling this month on a defect in the legal machinery that allows automatic cancellation of the visas of students who fall behind in attendance or academic performance.
Sydney lawyer David Bitel said it was possible the Department of Immigration and Citizenship could use another method to cancel the visas.