Students rally behind broke computer school

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 15:50 21/03/2012

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Students at a private computer training institute that has been put into liquidation are speaking out in support of their school saying they hope it can be saved despite financial issues.

Computer Power (NZ) Ltd, which runs Computer Power Institute campuses in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, was put into liquidation in the High Court at Wellington this week. The institute has about 750 students including about 150 international students.

Student Tim Cashman said he and others had been led to believe the situation was not that bad. He said he loved studying at the institute because of the freedom it offered and the way it was set up, which was similar to a workplace environment. His one-year diploma in systems technology was almost completed, but he wasn't sure what he could do if the school was shut down. "I have only got a few weeks left in my course and I have already got a job placement but the fact that I have only got four weeks left - I'm hoping I can cross credit."

Mr Cashman, 19, said many of the international students were in a worse position than he was as they were unsure if they could transfer to another training body. "I'm waiting to see (what will happen) just at the moment. Everyone is kind of carrying on as normal. Everyone is trying to knuckle down and get on with it."

Liquidator John Fisk said the institute would stay open over the next two days while he and the other liquidator, Jeremy Morley, talked to government agencies and potential purchasers. The institute's future may be clearer then, he said.

The 47 staff have been paid until the end of the month and fee protection insurance should cover students' fees.

Immigration New Zealand suspended processing visas for international students to attend the institute on February 20 when it learned of doubts about its financial viability. Immigration's operations support branch manager Michael Carley said 32 visa applications were on hold pending a decision on the institute's future.

Intending students could seek a new training body or wait to see if they could attend the institute.

Although the institute owed $8,345,422 in tax, penalties and interest, IRD had been prepared to settle for $3m, the court was told previously.

Another student Armin Ruf said in an email to the Dominion Post that the school was a gem that needed to be somehow saved. "I am truly hoping a business will be able to surface that can take the reins and allow this awesome school to continue to operate. New Zealand needs training institutions like this."

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He said the school provided a system unlike any other school which encouraged self-paced learning.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority said it had visited Computer Power twice in recent months to ensure compliance with student fee protection and that issue had been resolved.

Most of the tax debt was from unpaid PAYE and GST, but included KiwiSaver employee deductions of $166,040 and KiwiSaver employer contributions of $19,795.

Computer Power (NZ)'s sole director Andrew Horton, of Victoria, Australia, said he could not comment. But in an affidavit filed in January he said the New Zealand institute was financially viable and, but for tax debts, would have made a $500,000 net profit for each of the past three financial years.

The tax debt began when the institute's shareholding company, Didasko Group (NZ), bought the School of Travel and Tourism in September 2006.

Mr Horton said the Qualifications Authority had asked him to help the school which was on the brink of collapse with 500 students whose fees were not protected.

Promised Tertiary Education Commission funding did not eventuate, he said. Through 2007 and part of 2008 Computer Power Institute loaned money to keep the school going and ran up the tax debt as a result.

In July 2008 the travel school was transferred to the Auckland School of Technology.

The Tertiary Education Commission said last night its funding of Computer Power had ranged between $2.6m in 2006 to $2.9m in 2011. It wanted to ensure current students were able to finish their courses.

Were you a student at the school? Contact our newsroom at news@dompost.co.nz

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