Choose with Care to Avoid Dispute and Loss amid a Plethora of “Value-added Self-enhancement” Tuition Courses

14 September 2017
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Choose with Care to Avoid Dispute and Loss amid a Plethora of  “Value-added Self-enhancement” Tuition Courses

The market is full of self-enhancement or value-added courses of all descriptions.  Consumers are reminded that currently, in Hong Kong, there exists no single accreditation organisation on the quality of these tutorial courses.  When contemplating for enrolment, consumers should, apart from personal interests, also pay attention to the practical, professional and word-of-mouth aspects of these tutorials in the market.  Enrolment in inferior courses will not only result in monetary and time loss, but also worse still learning erroneous or non-professional knowledge or theories.

    As shown in the consumer complaints being lodged with the Consumer Council, some course providers have resorted to undesirable sales tactics such as the qualifications and competence of some tutors are brought into question, and the advertising of some providers is deemed at variance with the actual situation.  Contents and objectives of subjects like personal growth are often abstract as distinct from other concrete subjects.  Consumers often find it difficult to accurately evaluate the syllabus and usefulness as well as the tutorial standards.  In case of dispute, the chances of redress are slim.  Consumers contemplating enrolling in such courses should exercise extreme caution in their choice in order not to waste their hard-earned money and precious time.

Case one: Aggressive sales in life enhancement tuition
Proliferating in the market are tuition and training courses that promise self-enhancement to help you explore and get ahead in life.  The complainant took a 5-day training course at $5,800, and on the last day of the course the tutor began to hard-sell him into enrolling the continuing phase 2 and 3 of the course. The complainant declined as he did not find the course useful.
In a subsequent sharing session the tutors and people claiming to be ex-students began to take turns to bombard him, one after another, in a barrage of questions continuously for over 3 hours till he nearly collapsed.  He finally gave in and paid the tuition fee with a total amount of $18,500.  In response to the Council’s conciliation, the company insisted that the complainant had enrolled of his own accord voluntarily and refused to provide any refund.  He was advised to seek further recourse through legal litigation.

Case two: Qualifications of tutors in counselling in doubt
The issue of tutor’s competence triggered another complaint involving a professional children counsellor certificate course.  The tutor in this case claimed to be a member of a Hong Kong psychology association with overseas qualifications.  Without hesitation, the complainant enrolled in the course and paid a tuition of $39,800.  But all too soon she found the course syllabus to digress widely from what was stated in the promotional brochure, and that the class had only 4 students.

Basically what the tutor was to distribute some notes without any indepth lecture of the theories in counselling.  Later it transpired that the notes were   material copied from the internet, and the tutor turned out to be a non-member of the psychology association he claimed to belong.  Totally dissatisfied, she sought the help of the Council.  The company, however, refused to respond to the mail and telephone calls of the Council and the complainant was referred to seek legal advice to determine her next step.
There is currently no statutory registration or licensing system for counselling practitioners in Hong Kong. While their qualifications and experiences form the basis for evaluation of their professionalism, their teaching quality is much harder to be assessed.  Consumers are advised to make enquiries of the background of related professional bodies, and retain any promotional brochures on the course syllabus and receipts as documentary proof in the event of disputes.

Case three: “Foreign tutor” has no clear definition
Does the term “foreign tutor” of English imply the tutor has to be a western foreigner and non-Chinese?  A complainant has taken exception to an English tutorial course advertising “foreign tutor” who, as it transpired much to her disappointment, was a Chinese of Australian nationality.  She conceded that while there was nothing wrong with his English, the tutor used Cantonese 80% of the time in the classroom, defeating her original purpose to improve her spoken English. 

She claimed that she was assured, before enrolment, that the main focus of the course was to provide one-on-one conversation training conducted by a “foreign tutor”; but she had never seen one in the school.  The company maintained that the course fully complied with the requirements of the Continuing Education Fund, and that the tutor was fluent in English holding recognised qualifications.  Upon the conciliation of the Consumer Council, the company eventually agreed to offer her a refund of 80% of the tuition fees paid ($6,099 in total) for settlement.

As many of the English tutorial courses in the market advertised prominently “foreign tutor” (外藉導師) to entice students who believe that a foreign national whose mother tongue is English will better help them learn the language.  Course providers, on the other hand, may hold a different view as to what it means to be a “foreign tutor” contrary to the general consumer expectation.  To ensure accuracy in information, the service providers are suggested to provide clear information with regard to the tutor’s name, photo, and teaching qualifications and experience.

Given a wide diverse range of tuition courses ever proliferating in the market, consumers are faced with a baffling choice.  Some helpful guidelines for reference are in the following:

- Know your own actual need, financial situation and study goal.

- Check out the people organising the tuition and their reputation, the qualifications and experience of the tutors, and word-of-mouth recommendation of the quality of teaching.

- Service providers have the responsibility to offer comprehensive, accurate and clear information on the courses and syllabus.

- If such information is found not to correspond with the facts, retain as much as possible documentary proof, and consider bringing the service provider to the attention of the Customs and Excise Department.