Students, ex-staff critical of Nova

Students and former employees of the Nova Corp. language school chain were critical of the company’s practices in light of its suspension Wednesday for six months from recruiting students on long-term contracts.

Sadaaki Suwazono, director of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Consumer Protection Division, detailed a list of 18 offenses, including exaggerated advertising claims and misrepresentation.

“These offenses were committed with the full knowledge of senior management,” Suwazono said.

The ministry and the Tokyo metropolitan government launched an investigation into Nova in February.

They found a memo in which Nova President Nozomu Sahashi stated there is no need to stop pushing sales at a meeting held to discuss measures to deal with a lack of teachers making it difficult to meet student reservations.

Company officials have reportedly told students that the ministry permitted Nova to run the business that way.

When the company was faced with requests from students to cancel contracts within a cooling-off period after signing a contract, an executive in the company’s complaint department reportedly instructed other employees to tell the students the system could not be applied.

“People will lose faith in the Specified Commercial Transactions Law if we let [Nova] get away with these offenses,” Suwazono said.

Questions have also been raised by former employees of the company about Nova’s profit-first approach to business.

A 24-year-old woman from Wakayama who worked until December as a Kansai area representative at Nova’s Osaka headquarters said about the company: “The catchphrase stating that if a student booked they could take a class at any time also implied that this included videophone lessons.”

She said, however, that the contract manual states videophone classes must not be mentioned unless the customer brings the matter up, and that there was a rule that staff could not volunteer information to students unless asked.

Furthermore, when potential students took a 20-minute test to ascertain their level of language skills, they were made to sign a contract which stipulated that day as the first day of their contract.

“I feel terrible as I’m aware I did some bad things,” the former employee said.

Lessons went ahead as normal at a school near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo on Wednesday evening, but all the students there expressed surprise at the suspension enforced by the ministry.

A Nova pamphlet states that students can freely choose what type of lesson they want, when and where to take it and how many people will be in the class.

“Because I couldn’t reserve lessons, I couldn’t use up the points I’d paid for. Staff told me that if I bought additional points, I could extend the time period for my lessons, but it was just an aggressive sales tactic,” an unemployed 29-year-old male student said.

A thirtysomething female company employee from Osaka said that she could not reserve lessons at a school in Kyushu and could only attend 10 lessons in three months.

Nova staff recommended she take more expensive one-on-one lessons when she complained she could not use up her points in the specified time period.

“The company thinks of profits more than students,” she said.

Nova has more than 400,000 students at over 900 schools nationwide. It is claimed that the company pushes long-term contracts offering cheaper lessons that trap students who cancel midway through their contracts.

The chain is well-known for its “Nova rabbit” mascot and its “ekimae ryugaku” policy of opening schools near stations.