Teachers face expulsion in schools shutdown

THOUSANDS of young foreigners teaching English in Japan were left jobless and in danger of expulsion from the country yesterday after the embattled language education giant Nova shut its 925 schools and sought bankruptcy protection from creditors pursuing 43.9 billion yen ($420 million).

At least 5000 foreigners, 2000 Japanese staff and 400,000 students at the private English-teaching chain have been left in a precarious financial position by the move, which could herald one of the biggest corporate collapses in Japan’s history.

Australian teachers, who make up one-fifth of Nova’s foreign staff, are regarded as the backbone of Japan’s billion-dollar English-teaching industry.

Along with their Japanese colleagues, they are owed wages for at least two months.

“I’m due more than $6000, and to be honest, I seriously doubt I’ll ever see a cent of that,” said 27-year-old Chris McCauley, from Melbourne, who taught at a Nova school outside Tokyo for two years. “I’m really pissed off. I have $270 in the bank and I don’t know what I’m going to do.

“I can’t afford a flight home, and getting a new English-teaching job is going to be virtually impossible while 5000 other ex-Nova teachers are competing. This is scary.”

Foreigners sponsored by Nova to work in Japan face the possibility of losing their visas, and consequently their right to stay in the country.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, earlier pledged government assistance to the “1300 Australians who are suddenly finding themselves in the street”. “If they get into real personal difficulties, we’ll obviously help them out”, he said.

As several teachers called family members for help yesterday, their students went to schools to vent their anger over Nova’s inept management.

Nova’s president, Nozomu Sahashi, who owns a 16 per cent equity stake in the Osaka company, did not turn up to an emergency board meeting on Thursday and was still nowhere to be found yesterday, Nova said.

The company dismissed him from the board for failing to explain his “opaque way of fund-raising and negotiating with potential business alliance partners”. The company is now jointly represented by three board members, including Anders Lundqvist, who co-founded it in 1981.

At Osaka’s District Court, Nova pledged to find a sponsor for its rehabilitation under the supervision of a court-appointed administrator. It has said it would need a significant cash injection within 10 days to survive. But most industry sources believe it is doomed. The Jasdaq Securities Exchange for start-ups and venture companies said it would delist Nova today.

At its peak the chain controlled half of Japan’s private English-teaching industry. It was plunged into financial crisis this year, partly due to overexpansion, but also because the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry banned the company from signing new students on long-term contracts for six months after it was found to have lied about its services and cancellation policy.

Its demise has been embarrassing for the Government, whose senior spokesman, Nobutaka Machimura, said yesterday: “This matter affects not only our students but all the foreign teachers and staff, so we very much hope the impact on them can be minimised.”