Conviction for theft tops off school failures

HANK SCHOUTEN AND BLAKE CRAYTON-BROWN
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2014

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The director of a Lower Hutt-based business school, who has been convicted of theft of student fees, has been involved in a string of other private school failures.

Mieko Cains, who is still to be sentenced on the charges, was a director of 10 other companies that have been struck off the register of companies in recent years.

These include the company that ran Capital Language Academy schools in Wellington and Lower Hutt which closed in 2003, leaving creditors owed more than $1 million.

A year later Cains opened the Wellington Business School with about 80 students, mainly from overseas.

The school was closed in 2011 and Cains' company, Total Education Group, was liquidated after an investigation by the New Zealand Qualification Authority.

That inquiry found a shortfall in the school's student fee protection trust account and that the total number of students was deliberately misrepresented.

At the time it was closed, the school had 73 English students but only 32 were registered with NZQA, the authority's deputy chief executive, Jane von Dadelszen, said.

About $122,000 in fees paid by the other 41 students were not paid into the trust account and was lost.

Von Dadelszen said the students were reimbursed from a levy paid by other education providers and were transferred to other schools.

Cains was able to establish the business school in 2004 despite the earlier failure of the Capital Language Academy, because registration requirements back then were not as tight.

"That wouldn't happen now," Von Dadelszen said.

"The experience of poor performance by providers wasn't something NZQA was focused on back then. All our quality assurance is much better than it was 10 years ago."

The Education Act was changed in 2011 to ensure schools could be run only by a "fit and proper person" and to ensure that risk of a repeated school failure was unlikely.

A former member of the business school's administration staff, who did not want to be named, said she was glad Cains had pleaded guilty.

Cains had kept the school's finances close and was "not in touch with reality", she said.

While students had positive experiences at the school, its collapse left more than a dozen staff thousands of dollars each out of pocket.

Cains declined to comment.

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- The Dominion Post

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