Whistleblowers: Abertay takes critic to court for withheld fees

September 20, 2002

A postgraduate student who withheld his tuition fees in protest against the poor quality of his MBA course is being taken to court by the University of Abertay, Dundee.

Abertay has hired debt collectors to wrest almost £6,000 from Mario Christiansson, a Swede, although his complaints have been backed by fellow students and the Swedish college that delivered the course in partnership with Abertay. The college, Blekinge Institute of Technology, this week confirmed that it had left the partnership after complaining of poor administration, flawed admissions procedures and poor English skills among students.

Mr Christiansson, , said he encountered problems not long after enrolling on the international MBA course in September 2001. The course is delivered in three stages - three months in Abertay followed by spells in Sweden and at San Diego State University, California. The final stage was cancelled after Abertay failed to obtain visas to the US because rules were tightened after the September 11 attacks.

Troubles began as early as October. Students on the international MBA course and those on the domestic MBA course complained about what they thought were excessive fees. In a statement to The THES , an Abertay spokesman said the class representative "withdrew the complaint and agreed that it had no basis". This week, the representative told The THES that complaints on behalf of the class had not been resolved or withdrawn but had been "ignored or cast aside". Abertay said the course committee minutes showed that the matter was resolved.

Mr Christiansson made his first formal complaints in April this year, when he was in Sweden. He complained about poor administration and the limited language ability of fellow students, which he said was affecting the quality of his tuition. "I am feeling angry and cheated," he said. He said he would not pay his £6,000 in fees and suggested that he should be paid compensation for losing a year of his time and a year's salary from his job.

In May, Caroline Lamb, Abertay's director of operations, asked Mr Christiansson to detail his complaints so she could act under the complaints procedures, but in the same letter she warned that he must clear his debt immediately or "it will be necessary for the university to seek to de-register you from your programme". Mr Christiansson's enrolment was cancelled in June. In July, a debt-collection firm contacted him to threaten "immediate legal proceedings".

This week, Anders Nilsson, who ran the Blekinge side of the MBA, said the institute had quit the partnership. "We have recently decided to withdraw from the programme and will not work together with Abertay Dundee on this project," he said.

"We have been critical of the way Abertay Dundee has been handling the programme. Our critique mainly concerned the administrative support for the programme. We were not happy with the admission procedures, where the lack of a set process resulted in prospective students getting inaccurate and, many times, severely delayed information. Furthermore, we were concerned about the language skills of some students. The sometimes poor quality in this respect created a lot of problems during classes, and the interaction between students that is sought in a MBA class was hampered."

He said that the institute had never before had reason to question the quality of provision offered at Abertay and that previous students had been happy.

A spokesman said Abertay had been unaware of Blekinge's intention to withdraw and was "extremely surprised" because it had had "no formal or official communication from Blekinge about any dissatisfaction it might have felt". He accepted that Blekinge had made "informal communications" of its concerns.

He said that all five international MBA students had met the entry requirements and said that Mr Christiansson first complained after he had received several reminders about his long overdue fees. He said Mr Christiansson had been invited to meet the head of school and had been offered an extension of the deadline of his dissertation so he could get his MBA. The spokesman said the great majority of student feedback sheets rated the course as "very good or good".

The use of a debt-collection agency is "in accordance with our normal policy for former students who have outstanding debts", the spokesman said.

Want to blow the whistle?
Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298
or email him: phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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