Nova collapse feared

Hundreds of Australian teachers of English in Japan should “start making contingency plans”, the Government has warned, as erratic behaviour by language school colossus NOVA this week fuelled more predictions of an impending collapse.

Dozens of foreign staff at NOVA, which employs more than 1000 Australians, have reportedly been given eviction notices because the corporate giant has failed to pay the rent on their apartments, despite in some cases deducting it from their wages.

Japanese students were in tears outside the biggest NOVA school in Fujisawa, south of Tokyo, yesterday, after arriving to find the school had been evicted from its building for defaulting on rent.

Roughly 2000 Japanese staff had yesterday not been paid by NOVA for more than a week, and some young foreign employees have gone three weeks without wages, the foreign workers union said. Several teachers told the Herald they had been forced to borrow money to eat.

One 27-year-old from Melbourne, working in Chiba, said he had been forced to eat only rice and instant miso soup for a week while waiting for his pay, which arrived two weeks late: “Many of those were one-meal-a-day affairs. We’re not loaded – a lot of us live week to week.”

NOVA controls half of Japan’s billion-dollar private English-teaching industry. It has saturated the country with 925 schools – but has recently admitted it will have to close more than 200 of them – and employs 5000 foreigners, more than any other Japanese company.

But a combination of overexpansion and corporate fraud has brought the giant chain to the brink of collapse. If it goes under, it will become the country’s biggest corporate casualty, leaving thousands of foreigners jobless and without visas.

CEO Nozomu Sahashi was due to make an announcement yesterday, prompting rumours that NOVA could be partially bought out, but he has postponed the statement until next week. Company spokesman Yoshiyuki Kurabe denied that schools were being kicked out of their offices, and said that NOVA was “implementing measures to provide a stable environment for its students”.

Even as the Australian Embassy in Tokyo was telling anxious callers to “start making contingency plans”, NOVA was bringing out new teachers last week.

However, the Australian Asia Centre for Education Exchange released a terse statement on its website last Monday to say: “AACE no longer conducts recruitment on behalf of Nova Group in Japan.”

Natasha Steele, a 25-year-old from Sydney who has been teaching for NOVA at Fujisawa for nine months, was kicked out of her apartment after the company failed to pay the rent.

Another teacher, 24-year-old Jerry Johnston from the US working in Takamatsu, said he had been given an eviction notice despite the fact NOVA had deducted the rental money from his wages. “Why hasn’t the Japanese government intervened yet? It’s been going on for weeks.”

A spokesman for the National Union of General Workers said that “there are 400,000 students who might not get thousands of yen in tuition fees back. It would be like a bank going down, with no guarantees or security for the investors”.