HCMC English centers vanish, owing money to hundreds

By Manh Tung   April 6, 2022 | 10:51 pm PT
Several HCMC English centers have disappeared after months of Covid-related suspension, owing tuition fees to hundreds of parents, many of whom have approached the courts for justice.

For the past two months, Go Vap District resident Khiet has tried every way he could think of to meet investors of the Pixar foreign language center and request a refund of tuition fees that he'd paid them.

However, no phone call went through and "all other methods of communication" failed. The center's three locations in Go Vap, Tan Phu and District 12 have closed down.

In April last year, Khiet had signed his child up for an English course at the Go Vap center for VND7 million ($306). But just a week later, the center had to suspend operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In October 2021, the center submitted a request for switching to online classes as it awaited the resumption of normal services. However, Khiet's child has not had a single lesson since and the tuition fee he paid has not been refunded.

"The center has shown signs of committing fraud. It has refused to come forward for a dialogue and refused to refund us. Many people have lost their money, so we're determined to get to the bottom of this," Khiet said.

Parents gather to sue an English center in HCMC for owing them money in March 2022. Photo obtained by VnExpress

Parents gather to take legal action against an English center in HCMC for money it owed them, in March 2022. Photo obtained by VnExpress

Van, a District 12 resident, said she paid VND11.6 million for her child to study at the Pixar center on Bui Van Ngu Street in 2020. After four months, the center closed down. During the Covid-19 social distancing period, the center neither taught its students online nor sent them any work material.

Last October, the head of the center told a group of parents that it would begin online classes. Van's child had online classes from November 2021 to January 2022, and that's it.

"After the Tet holiday (in February), my child never got to study online again. I tried to contact the center but no one answered the phone. When I visited their office, it had been rented by someone else. The center still owes me VND4.9 million," she said.

At just the Pixar center in District 12 alone, around 200 parents have not had their tuition fees refunded. The center's official website is inaccessible, and its hotline unreachable. Since March, every weekend, parents have gathered at the investor's house to discuss the issue, but never got a meeting.

Finally, Van and a group of around 10 parents sued the investor of the Pixar center at the District 12 People's Court. The court has expressed its willingness to certain cases.

An English center in HCMCs Go Vap District has been closed down since October 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

An English center in HCMC's Go Vap District that has been closed since October 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Hundreds of students of the Saigon American English Center (SAS) have also been left in limbo. Students enrolling at the center's branches in Thu Duc City, Go Vap, Hoc Mon and District 7 paid between VND3 million and VND10 million for their courses.

But several SAS branches closed down in October 2021, catching the students off guard.

Phuong, a student at the HCMC University of Technology, paid VND7.2 million for a 10-month course at a SAS branch in Thu Duc City. In April last year, the center suspended operations over the Covid-19 pandemic before closing down completely in October, with Phuong only managing a few days of study.

No one answered when she called the center's hotline. With no other option to continue her studies with the center, she decided to enroll in an online TOEIC class instead.

"I am mad because they lied. Not just me, hundreds of others are in the same situation," she said.

Duc, who lives in Binh Duong Province that borders HCMC, also spent over VND7 million for a course at the Thu Duc center.

"They disappeared without a care for their students. They don't teach and they don't refund. That's nothing but fraud," he said.

The Saigon American English Center, owned by the Master English Education Company, has 22 branches in HCMC, which are mostly defunct now. In Thu Duc City alone, over 150 students have reported that their tuition fees have not been refunded, at VND3-5 million per student.

Students and parents are not the only ones the centers owe money to. Several teachers and other staff have also not been paid.

Phuong, an employee of a Pixar center on Bui Van Ngu Street, said her salary was often delayed and not paid in full since the beginning of 2021. Seeing how the center was suffering because of the pandemic, many employees voluntarily received just VND5 million a month so teachers could be paid.

"In the past, the center said it didn't have enough money to pay us and we understood. But since December last year, they have fallen silent while owing me VND58 million," Phuong said.

HCMC currently has over 1,000 licensed foreign language centers in 1,700 locations. Due to the pandemic, around 80 percent of them had to suspend operations and 68 were officially dissolved.

Ho Tan Minh, office head of the Department of Education and Training, said foreign language centers must prove that they have "met all rightful interests of students and teachers" before they can be dissolved. A lot of the money problems have to do with centers that have stopped operating, but are not officially dissolved, Minh said.

The department has already tried to summon the investor and director of the Pixar center to discuss tuition refunds for students, but neither showed up.

It has since instructed people to contact relevant authorities and begin legal proceedings against the defaulting English centers.

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