NOT HAPPY JAN: Sarah Velt is still in the dark about how to get her debt waived after the educational institution she was studying at went broke and she couldn't finish her course.
NOT HAPPY JAN: Sarah Velt is still in the dark about how to get her debt waived after the educational institution she was studying at went broke and she couldn't finish her course. Patrick Woods

Debts mount as training rip off victims fight for justice

SARAH Velt feels as though she's chasing her tail trying to get a debt reversed she believes she does not deserve.

A handful of the biggest vocational education and training colleges including Smart City, Evocca and Careers Australia have gone bust, and thousands of people like Sarah are still in the lurch.

Sarah started studying a Diploma in Business with Smart City Vocational College in February 2016.

After she was approached by a sales person in front of the Maroochydore campus, she enrolled in what she thought was a reputable institution.

But over the years Smart City had been at the centre of a number of controversies including the sacking of hundreds of staff who were left owed up to $2.6 million in annual leave and other entitlements.

At one stage, the college shut its doors for about a month before reopening at a reduced number of sites around the country in late-January 2017.

And in March, The Federal Department of Education notified the college it would scrap their supply with the VET FEE-HELP government loan scheme effective immediately.

More than one year after it still has Sarah and thousands of other students with nowhere to go, no answers and debts into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I was about halfway through my course when all the students received an email saying that they hadn't met the requirements of a governing agency and that they would notify us when everything was back in order and for the meantime to use the Caloundra campus," she said.

"About a week later I got an email from my trainer saying she no longer had a position within the company (and another) saying they were no longer offering courses and training and that we would be contacted to be placed into a different learning institution."

But Sarah said they disconnected all of their phones and stopped replying to emails. No contact was made to place her in another institution.

Sarah added the student loans watchdog proved no help either.

"I basically got told I had to deal with it and pay back my debt," she said.

"Up to this day I am still trying to get this debt I owe, for a course that I didn't get to complete, to be reversed as I'm in debt for something I didn't get to benefit from."

At the time Sarah enrolled, she understood the entire course would cost $7000. But once she began studying, she realised this was not the case and her debt increased to $17,000 and continues to incur interest.

"I'm frustrated at how poorly the whole situation was handled. I feel like I'm running out of options," she said.

Many students are only just discovering their debts from dodgy institutions as they start to reach the loan repayment threshold of about $45,000, which itself has dropped $11,000 in two years.

Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, Senator Michaelia Cash brought light upon the issue and comforted those students with these issues.

Ms Cash said not to panic if students discovered an unexplained student loan debt as the steps to take to fix it were topic of serious discussion.

"The Coalition Government is cleaning up the mess left from Labor's failed VET FEE-HELP scheme that saddled students with debt and offered very little in return, sometimes a worthless qualification - if anything at all," she said.

"We have introduced more than 20 measures to improve compliance and we've made it easier for students to have their debts cancelled if they were incurred as a result of inappropriate conduct by training providers or their brokers.

On January 1, the government introduced new legislation to help cancel the debts of students who were inappropriately enrolled under the scheme called The Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Act 2018.

The legislation lets the Vocational Education and Training Student Loans Ombudsman make recommendations to the secretary of the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business on whether or not a student's debt should be re-credited.

Legislation is also in place to give the secretary of the department a discretionary power to remit debts for groups of students subject to a provider's inappropriate conduct.

"My department is... working hard to detect debts that should not have been incurred," Ms Cash said.

"Students who believe they have a VET FEE-HELP debt they should not have should contact the Vet Student Loans Ombudsman."

She said students affected by the VET FEE-HELP scandal should apply through the ombudsman to have their debt waived.

It is important to note that it is a case by case basis and not everyone is eligible.

Students can also find more information about the new VET FEE-HELP Student Redress Measures including fact sheers and how to make a complaint at