Western teachers in Japan face redundancy as Nova language schools close

Thousands of foreign teachers including 900 from Britain face redundancy, financial misery and eviction from their homes after the collapse of Nova, Japan?s largest chain of English language schools.

Diplomatic sources at the British and Australian embassies in Tokyo told The Times that they were expecting a ?significant exodus? of teachers, as unpaid staff struggle to find new jobs and buckle under Japan?s hefty cost of living.

More than 900 British teachers, a similar number from Australia and arbout 1,300 from the US – some of whom have families and have settled in Japan – have been plunged into legal limbo, their careers hanging by a thread.

For many Nova teachers, the lack of salary could leave them homeless within a few days because their rent is usually paid to landlords directly by Nova.

One British teacher, who rents his own apartment, said that he was expecting a sudden flood of colleagues to be sleeping on his floor as they struggled to find new jobs in a market with only limited opportunities.

The airline Qantas, in agreement with the Australian Government, has begun offering cut-rate, one-way tickets back to Sydney for Australians stranded by the Nova bankruptcy.

Many English-language teachers are preparing for what could be drawn-out and expensive legal battles. Teachers in remote, rural parts of Japan, often young university graduates living abroad for the first time, have found themselves stranded as their savings run out.

Today all 1,000 branches of Nova – Japan?s largest language school chain, with 50 per cent of the market – remained closed after the company filed for court protection from its creditors.

?I feel betrayed,? said Richard Naish, a 25-year old teacher from Bath, whose Nova branch is in remote Tochigi prefecture. ?The managers and teachers have all resigned around me and for the last few weeks I?ve had no boss at all.?

Mr Naish arrived for work yesterday to find a Japanese staff member in tears, removing her belongings and bolting the front door of the school – perhaps for good.

Nobody has yet been told whether Nova, and the jobs of its 5,000 employees, will survive into the new year. Nozomu Sahashi, the company?s founder, who was sacked by his board yesterday, has disappeared from public view. The company said that it was looking for other companies to mount a rescue bid.

Nearly 450,000 students expecting to be taught as usual were met with locked classroom doors this morning; about 2,500 teachers from Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States were told that lessons would be suspended indefinitely.

The ubiquitous chain, which is known as the ?McDonald?s of language schools? and is famous for recruiting aggressively at British university campuses, has not paid teachers for six weeks. Japanese support staff and administrators working for Nova have not received pay cheques since August.

Across Nova?s network of schools, hastily written pledges from Nova?s head office in Osaka have, on successive pay-days, offered false hope to the teachers that they would be paid the next day.

The company is crippled with debts of almost 50 billion yen (£210 million), and has been losing students as its image has crumbled.

?There has been a sense that Nova would go under for a few months, but we were just kidding ourselves for ages that it was too big to fail,? said Joe Berry, a teacher from Yorkshire who has worked for Nova for two years.

?But now we know this is it, and people are going to struggle. Some of these teachers have families, mortgages – it is such a shame it?s come to this.?

Nova?s problems stem from an ill-conceived expansion of its branch network across Japan, backed by a massive advertising campaign. The company was unable to find enough experienced teachers to staff its classrooms, and many students defected to rival schools after complaining about the poor quality of Nova?s language courses.

Nova?s plight deepened in June, when it received a six-month ban on enrolling new students after regulators ruled that Nova had lied in its advertisements. The company is also notorious for its treatment of teachers and Japanese staff and has been accused of violating labour laws.