Crackdown on bogus colleges

The police, in partnership with the departments of basic and higher education and training, have vowed to flush out operators of bogus colleges.

Each year scores of desperate parents lose money in school fees paid to unregistered colleges. The parents have no legal recourse.
Legally, neither department can intervene because such a dispute is considered a private matter between the learners or parents and the colleges.

But the recent high-profile arrests of some alleged owners of illegal colleges signal the government’s intention to protect vulnerable parents.

Since the beginning of this year, police have arrested 48 owners of unregistered colleges nationally.

Speaking after the arrests were made, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa promised to deal harshly with owners who do not follow legal procedures in registering their colleges.

Mthethwa’s spokesperson, Zweli Mnisi, attributed the recent successful arrests to police intelligence work and collaboration with the two education departments. “Our police make regular visits to suspect colleges to verify their legal status with the help of the relevant education department. The departments also inform us about institutions that have not fulfilled the necessary requirements to operate legally,” said Mnisi.

“I personally have been phoned or approached by parents who told me they realised only after their children had completed their studies that the certificates they were issued with were not recognised by the department of higher education and training. Imagine their sense of loss and disappointment. This has got to stop,” Mnisi said.

Mnisi urged parents who have fallen prey to unscrupulous college operators to lay criminal charges. He also advised them to verify the legal status of institutions with the relevant education authorities before enrolling their children.

He said the police raids would not be limited to the learner registration period only but will continue throughout the year as police will make sporadic visits to private providers of education around the country to verify the status of colleges.

Department of basic education spokesperson Granville Whittle also appealed to learners, parents and any member of the public to “lay a criminal charge with the police if any evidence comes to the attention of the department(s) or such person that somebody is running a bogus or unregistered independent school”.

Whittle said that, if an institution is found to be operating illegally, the department may obtain an interdict against the operator to prevent him or her from running the business. He said parents who are victims of such illegal operators must report them immediately to the police.

Last year Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande held talks with the Association of Private Providers of Education, Training and Development (APPETD) to highlight the seriousness of the problem.

Nzimande said then: “We cannot taint all private colleges, as some are abiding by the law and offering good quality courses. However, these colleges are being discredited by the fly-by-night institutions which exploit people who are desperate for education and training qualifications. For this reason, government will continue to make sure that illegal operators are flushed out.”

Nzimande set up a stakeholders’ forum comprising the National Prosecuting Authority, APPETD, the Council on Higher Education, Umalusi and the South African Qualifications Authority to work jointly with the police to enforce the regulation of private colleges.

Registration can be verified on the department’s website, or by calling 012 312 5878. Inquiries can be made by fax at 012 323 8817. 

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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