Oceana IBS Mauritius made false promises, forced applicants to do unpaid work, they allege

A group of Indian and Nepali students are stuck in Mauritius fighting a legal battle for refund of fees from a college run by Indians which, they allege, has cheated them.

Only one student has returned home after managing to get a refund, but at least 19 others who took admission in the Oceana IBS Mauritius for courses in Food Production Culinary Arts earlier this year have been unsuccessfully demanding that the college return their fees after they realised, on landing in that country, that the institute was neither qualified to offer the course nor did it have permission to do so from the Mauritian Qualification Authority (MQA).

The students, to some of whom The Hindu spoke to, are anxious to return home and uncertain about how it will end. “We are running out of money and also our visa validity is expiring,” said Vasudevan of Coimbatore.

Some of them have also been getting phone calls warning them not to make a fuss in a place where they have no family or friends.

The students had applied for a ‘Level 2 course in Culinary Arts’. At $7,000, the fee was by no means a small amount, but the institute promised a British qualifying certificate at the end of the course, and a job in Mauritius too.

They had to pay the money upfront in India. After they had done so, the college said it had no permission to run the course and offered them a different one. This one was called Food Production. Both were courses in cooking and waiting at tables.

As this was also a Level 2 course, for which too the institute promised a certificate, the students agreed to switch.

But on landing in Mauritius, the students said, they were asked to sign up for an entirely different course — this time ‘Travel and Tourism.’ It was only for purposes of securing the visa, the college management told them.

Plus, without any delay, they were asked to report for unpaid work at well known resort hotels. The long hours they put in at these hotels was part of their “practical training,” they were told. Some of them worked in the front office of these hotels, some in the bar and restaurants, others did washing-up work the kitchen.

“The college has cheated us without offering the courses promised in the offer letters. We were forced to study a course thrust upon us and work without any pay in the name of internship,” alleged Antosheen Raju Philip, who hails from Kerala. He is one of the 19 students still stuck in Mauritius.

The only one who managed to get a refund was Noor ul Wahid. He is from Jammu and Kashmir.

“I realised I was trapped and there were many other Indian students like me,” said Wahid, who is now back in Srinagar. He was enticed to sign up for the course with the offer of a job with a salary of up to 45,000 Mauritian rupees (32 MR=$1).

When he realised his dreams of a job on a cruise liner were not going to come true, he approached a local lawyer, who filed a formal complaint against the institute to the MQA. The institute settled out of court with Wahid, refunding him the entire amount he paid, as well as compensation. Wahid is now back working in his family’s handicrafts business in Srinagar.

Encouraged by Wahid’s case, others too filed complaints with MQA. But they have not been as fortunate. Dama Chowdary, Andhra-born Managing Director of Oceana IBS Mauritius, left the country after refunding Wahid.

“A new managing director, T.P. Singh, has now been appointed and he is refusing any refund,” Vasudevan said.

Philip said the students had lodged a complaint with the Indian Embassy too but had not heard back. They have also complained to the police, aside from the MQA.

“The MQA directed the college management to settle the issue within two weeks but the management is adamant,” he said.

According to Arvin Lachuman, lawyer who helped Wahid and has taken up the case of other students, the institute even promised family visas for students, even though there was no such facility in Mauritius.

“Students can’t stay back after course completion but false promises of one-year stay were being made,” Mr. Lachuman said. The college, he said, “had violated all norms and trapped the Indian students with fake promises.”

Oceana IBS Mauritius has an office in Hyderabad.

Manu Dass, an institute representative who spoke to The Hindu, refuted the allegations by the students. He claimed that when MQA permission for the ‘Level 2 Culinary Arts’ course was not obtained, the college had offered ‘Level 4 Travel and Tourism’ along with ‘Level 2 Food Production’ and this was accepted by the students, including Wahid. He was, however, evasive when asked if the other students would get refunds.

He also claimed that working in hotels was part of the course and not a paid internship.

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