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    駅前留学

    Major news among foreigners in Japan this weekend is that NOVA, the largest chain of English conversation schools, has filed for bankruptcy and is in receivership:

    The company had been reeling from an administrative punishment issued in June over illegal practices, including deceiving would-be students with misleading advertisements.

    One focus of attention will be whether Nova’s estimated 300,000 students will be able to receive refunds for the lesson fees they paid in advance.

    The prepaid fees account for about 20 billion yen of the company’s liabilities.

    Another question concerns the wages in arrears to many of about 4,000 instructors and 2,000 other employees.

    The money owed to the employees and some other types of debts have a higher priority than the prepaid lesson fees in repayment from the outstanding company assets secured by court-appointed bankruptcy administrators.

    English conversation schools such as NOVA are low on the food chain. Their lessons aren’t so much methodical instruction in English as a way to pick up some phrases while having structured contact with foreigners. Teaching jobs there tend to attract kids just out of college who want an easy way to live abroad for an adventurous year or two and then make the transition into something else.

    That means that there are a lot of teachers in their early twenties who haven’t been paid for a month or two, don’t know any Japanese, and are feeling seriously screwed at the moment. The Asahi reports that at least one job placement center in Shinjuku has set up a window to help NOVA employees, and the Australian government is cooperating with Qantas Airlines to help Australian teachers get back home without having to pay full airfare.

    Of course, the Japanese administrative staff have been suffering, too, since they’ve been fielding questions from both students and foreign teachers over refunds and wages that weren’t forthcoming:

    Employees, mainly in their 20s, remained at their workplaces until the last moment, while many teachers had already stopped reporting to work over delays in salary payments. Lesson fees were also refunded to students who canceled their contracts with Nova. An employee in her 20s, who was manager of a branch in an office district in the Tokyo metropolitan area, said she began working for Nova after graduating from university as she wished to help people who wanted to learn English.

    She heard that the police had to be called to another branch because a student had become angry to the point of violence, apparently over a lesson contract dispute, but the headquarters offered no assistance in the matter. “I still told myself that I should hang on as long as I was getting paid,” she said.

    Foreign teachers started not showing up for lessons in mid-September when their salary payments were delayed. Consequently, dozens of complaints poured in, creating chaos for the company’s inexperienced receptionists. One staff member complained of not being able to afford food, while another had been reduced to tears every day before she finally collapsed and stopped coming to the office.

    It will be interesting to see whether the brand can be rehabilitated. More even than any of the other giant English conversation chains, NOVA has a McDonald’s-ish image of being available everywhere at reliable quality. The last several months of bad publicity have certainly done damage, but if new management can reopen offices within a month or so, it may do a decent job of mollifying wound-up customers.

    I’m not so sure what I think of the foreign teachers who stopped showing up for work. On the one hand, the responsible thing to do is to honor your commitments and expect payment when the company irons out its financial affairs. On the other, companies such as NOVA have a history of making it very clear to foreign teachers that they’re not a permanent part of the team and are valued chiefly as interchangeable cogs. The fear of permanently getting the shaft from headquarters was probably very real to a lot of them, even in cases in which their local managers were doing their best to be helpful.

    2 Responses to “駅前留学”

    1. John says:

      The place to go for information on this is “Let’s Japan”. Shawn has a post on the options that hte employees were faced with.

      Here is a forum for NOVA teachers, in case anyone interested doesn’t know about Let’s Japan.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks, John. I’m not sure NOVA’s chances in receivership are as bad as Shawn seems to think, though that doesn’t help teachers right now.

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