Nova faces long road back

With Monday marking one month since English-language school operator Nova Corp. filed for court protection, there is still no prospect of students receiving refunds on tuition fees and many Nova employees have chosen to leave their jobs.

G.communication Co., a Nagoya-based language-school operator, has taken over Nova operations and resumed offering lessons at 25 branches since Nov. 14, including the Kurokawa branch in Nagoya, which on Nov. 16 was the first to reopen.

The Hyogo-Koshien branch in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on Sunday became the first to resume operations in the Kansai region, where the company was headquartered. Seven students attended lessons on the day.

A foreign instructor at the branch said, “I’m so glad we could start lessons again.”

One student said: “Lessons resumed sooner than I expected, so I’m relieved. But I hope the branch closest to my home, which I used to go to, will reopen soon.”

Four branches in Tokyo–including Akabane in Kita Ward and Katsushika-Koiwa in Edogawa Ward–will be shortly reopened.

G.communication plans to reopen about 80 branches by the end of December at the earliest. The firm hopes that within six months to one year from now, lessons will be offered at 200 branches.

Among about 4,900 Japanese employees and foreign instructors that worked for Nova, more than half are likely to be rehired by G.communication. About 70 percent of foreign instructors, many of whom have been forced into poverty due to Nova’s failure to pay their wages, are likely to accept job offers from G.communication.

“Many students were hard workers and I’m attached to them,” a 50-year-old Australian man who used to work at the Tennoji branch in Osaka said.

However, about half of Japanese employees, including executives of key departments, are expected to refuse G.communication’s offer and quit Nova.

G.communication is said to have used aggressive merger and acquisition techniques to expand its business. Former Nova President Nozomu Sahashi was known for his autocratic management style.

One former Nova executive who has refused the job offer from G.communication said, “[G.communication’s business style] reminds me of [Sahashi].”

When Nova filed for court protection, it had about 300,000 students. Many of them do not know whether they will be able to continue lessons.

Students can continue lessons, redeeming prepaid tuition points, if they pay an additional 25 percent of the standard tuition fee. However, not all 670 branches will be reopened.

Nova became hugely popular due to the convenient locations of its branches, advertised by the firm as offering “ekimae ryugaku” (studying near your train station). However, G.communication Chairman and President Masaki Inayoshi said, “We’ll maintain the ‘ekimae’ style, but we won’t be so picky about prime locations.”

Some students have claimed they will be unable continue lessons if branch locations are not as convenient as they were, and the number of students could drop depending on the locations of reopened branches.

In addition, it is unclear whether G.communication has the resources to manage branches across the nation.

Nova shares closed at 1 yen on the Jasdaq stock market Monday–the last day of Nova stock dealing–dropping from 2 yen at Thursday’s close.

The stock was valued at 6,610 yen just after it went public in November 1996, but from mid-September this year, when the firm was found to have delayed wage payments to its staff, the price hovered at about 50 yen.