Unique International College: Applicants were helped in aptitude tests, court told

Sydney businessman Amarjit Singh outside the NSW Law Courts on Thursday. Photo: Janie BarrettTeacher never heard from her 80 students, court told

In 20 minutes, a NSW family was signed up for diplomas at Sydney’s Unique International College costing $22,000 each on the promise of a free laptop, a Federal Court has heard.

The Australian Compet­ition & Consumer Commission alleges students who were enrolled by the college were from the state’s poorest areas, including Walgett and Wagga Wagga, and were under the impression their qualifications in salon and business management were free.

In reality, the taxpayer-funded loans would have to be repaid once graduates earned more than $54,000 a year.

The ACCC alleges that because many students targeted by Unique were disabled or barely literate, many of those public loans will never be repaid, saddling students with debt and putting the public millions of dollars out of pocket.

According to the ACCC, of the 1534 students who commenced Unique courses from July 2014, 15 students have formally completed the courses.

The college denies any wrongdoing and claims it was operating a legitimate business.

On Thursday, three witnesses claimed that the college, run by Sydney businessman Amarjit Singh, forged their responses to questions, signed them up to thousands of dollars in debt without their knowledge, and wrote down answers on their behalf on an aptitude test legallydesigned to see if a student is capable of completing a course.

Acting on behalf of Unique, David Pritchard, SC, put it to one of the students, Jaycee Edwards, that her family could have been “scamming the scammers” in order to get free laptops, and that she was aware that she wouldn’t have to pay any of the money back until she earned over $50,000.

Ms Edwards, who had just finished year 11 and had a young child, told the court she was encouraged to draw circles around smiley faces as responses to questions that would qualify her for a diploma of management course and put her in a debt of more than $20,000.

“I didn’t want a course, I just wanted a free laptop,” she said. “The younger saleswoman told me which smiley faces to put a circle around, she wrote down some of the answers to speed the paperwork up.”

Ms Edwards accepted that she was aware of having to pay back the loan after she reached a certain income.

Wagga Wagga man Trey Simpson, who has spina bifida and attention deficit disorder, was also enrolled at the Granville college, according to his carer Margaret Simpson, who gave evidence to the court on Thursday.

“[When he meets new people], he can only say yes or no,” she said.

Ms Simpson said she filled out Mr Simpson’s form on his behalf after he came running through the house, asking for his identification and excited by the prospect of a free laptop.

She said she was concerned he would throw a violent tantrum if she did not fill out the paperwork.

But she claims that she never ticked the boxes or filled out some of the responses to questions that would put Mr Simpson in $22,000 worth of debt for his diploma.

“I don’t even know what VET FEE-HELP is,” she said.

The defence argued that those signing up to courses were actively involved in the sign-up process and knew of the benefits education could bring them.

The hearing continues.

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