Powerlan's golden run has suffered a hiccup after it was forced to defend allegations its training institute was taking money on false pretences for sub-standard IT courses.
The listed IT channel outfit is taking legal action against the Sydney Morning Herald over controversial articles that appeared in the paper last Wednesday.
It is also believed that Neville Wran, former premier of NSW and Powerlan chairman, is pursuing his own legal action against the SMH over comments made about him in the articles.
The stories quoted Asian students, apparently disgruntled with their treatment in Australia by Powerlan's Australian IT Careers Institute (AITCI), who implied the organisation was involved in "shoddy practices".
Powerlan sent a statement to the ASX last Thursday in defence of the claims. Chris Voukidis, a director of Powerlan and the AITCI, said the defamatory nature of the article had damaged the reputation of both AITCI and Powerlan itself, which offers a range of IT products and services to the corporate market. "To quantify the impact [of the article] is difficult at this time," he said.
"The directors of Powerlan are confident that the operations of the Institute are being conducted in a competent manner within statutory requirements and that the educational commitments of the organisation are being fulfilled," the ASX statement read.
The Institute has over 200 students currently enrolled in its courses throughout Australia, but debate has centred on around 12 apparently unhappy students.
Complaints included claims that courses didn't exist, work experience was now no longer available as part of specific courses, students were being hit with unexpected $1500 bills for photocopying superseded course material, students could not access the Internet, the Institute did not have industry accreditation, there was no library, and that those who wished to leave the course had not been refunded.
The SMH also quoted Australian Computer Society CEO Dennis Furini as saying he would investigate Powerlan's apparently unauthorised use of ACS accreditation in marketing material.
Voukidis vigorously denied each claim in an interview with ARN. "I can confidently tell you the article is a complete misrepresentation of the truth," he said.
Voukidis also said the Institute has not been directed by the ACS to withdraw its accreditation markings, but ceased to use references to the ACS in February in consultation with the society. "It appears the SMH has misled him about the facts," he said.
Dennis Furini agreed and told ARN he was happy with the AITCI and that his comments about pursuing the college were made in response to information read to him by the SMH journalist. "Whatever they had there [on marketing material] was withdrawn in February," he said.
Meanwhile, Voukidis reports the AITCI has not been forced to refund students, nor has it been slow to respond to refund requests in line with set grievance policies. "Requests for refunds have been processed seven days after releases have been approved," he said, explaining the AITCI is "not sitting on any money".
He also said that of the 20 students that have requested transfers to other institutions, four have withdrawn and three of these four were photographed in the SMH picture accompanying the article. ARN was unable to contact any of the students quoted in the article.
Voukidis also said the AITCI denies it has failed to deliver its promised courses, work experience is still offered, the Institute is "not shoddy" and no staff threatened to cancel student visas. As for the $1500 photocopying fee, that was actually the price of course texts outlined as a cost of the course, he said. "The AITCI has not failed to meet any educational standards."
While Powerlan will not officially comment on why it believes the article appeared, the ACS's Furini offered his own thoughts. "My personal feeling is they got stuffed up by their agent (in Asia), but the Herald has a different view," he said. "My suspicion is they had an over-zealous agent."
One of the SMH articles quoted an expatriate Indian-based agent, Louanne Hancock, who had reportedly seen 40 of her students left with shattered dreams as a result of the AITCI's actions.