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Wall Street English in China accused of hard-selling, tricking college students into heavy debt
Photo: classdoor.co.uk
 
Although China has sternly banned non-bank lenders from lending to college students, it was recently reported by a state-run media that many college students in Beijing may have incurred heavy debt after being cajoled by an English learning center into signing loan contracts with an online lending platform to pay for some really pricey courses.

A Weibo post by a certified user “Things in Beijing that Beijingers don’t know” with numerous followers has recently triggered public concerns. The “Big V” account revealed that a college student had turned to him for help because he could hardly pay back 6,600 yuan every month on a 163,300 yuan debt for English classes at Wall Street English, a well-known English language training center.

China has prohibited any Peer-to-Peer (P2P) platforms from providing loans to college students since last year. “It definitely won’t work if you try yourself … 30 percent of our customers are students. The reason they could get loans is because Wall Street English would underwrite for them,” a sales person with WSE told a Beijing Youth Daily reporter who posed as a college student interested in attending classes.

“I can no longer learn there (at WSE) because of the financial burdens and my family also could not afford to pay back my debt. I just want to get a refund to free my family from the heavy burdens,” the college boy surnamed Liu wrote in a message to “Things in Beijing that Beijingers don’t know”. According to Liu, one of his schoolmates also lent money under WSE’s ‘arrangements’. “She had lent around 190,000 yuan and now she could not make ends meet, and WSE refused to refund.”

Liu provided screenshots of the loan contract he signed. It’s noteworthy the lender is Umoney, believed to be a P2P lending service under Du Xiaoman Financial (formerly Baidu Financial Services Group), a Fintech unit of China’s Internet giant Baidu. One clause of the contract regulates that “any disputes that may arise between the borrower and educational institute would not affect the borrower’s responsibility to make repayments,” meaning even if the signatory borrower asks to have a refund from WSE, their liabilities to pay back Umoney would not be waived.

Liu also demanded to sign his name under a commitment which says he “would not refuse to make repayments citing quality problems with the training courses. He guarantees all personal information presented is authentic and valid and would be willing to shoulder any results that may arise from overdue loans.”

According to the Beijing Youth Daily, Liu’s complaint is not an isolated case. Similar complaints about WSE could be found on multiple Chinese social media platforms like dianping.com, a review-based site, Zhihu, Quora’s Chinese equivalent, and Baidu Post Bar. A netizen named “Fan of Jielun princess” shared her bad experience. “I was stopped by a hard-sell WSE sales person. After nearly four to five hours’ brainwashing, I signed the contract for loan money for classes, although I figured out it’s not worth it later,” she wrote. The young girl who just graduated from college said she was also refused a refund by WSE. “It’s crazy. Now I just graduated from college with an unstable job while I have to handle monthly payment for a debt.”

According to a report by the state-run Voice of China, also known as China Media Group, Wall Street English is recommending large numbers of their young customers to borrow money from Baidu’s Umoney platform to pay course fees, and most of the borrowers are college students or fresh graduates who have limited financial means.

The official website of Du Xiaoman Financial makes it clear how Umoney installment loan could be obtained. There are only two requirements: one is for applicants to be aged between 18 and 55, and the second is for applicants to upload pictures of his or her ID card and debit card. There is no mention of whether or not college students could be allowed to apply.

When the reporter called Umoney service posing as a grade three university student, the customer service staff responded that they do not lend to college students.

A WSE sales person told the reporter that if he decided to buy courses, the education center would tender guarantee for his loan at Umoney. “Your cell phone would have positioning function. The WSE branch in the neighborhood of your location would underwrite for you, and then you could get loan from Umoney.”

P2P platforms and petty loan companies are not allowed to lend to college students. Du Xiaoman Financial is a non-bank financial institution and so it could not provide loans to college students, Wang Zongwei, a senior partner with the Beijing Jingsh Law Firm, told the Beijing Youth Daily.

It was earlier reported by the China Daily that the country has banned online loans to college students following a three-year boom in campus lending, which has been accompanied by outrage over exorbitant rates, violent debt collection practices, porn as payment, and various financial scams.

Established in 1972 in Italy, Wall Street English is among the largest providers of English language education for adults around the world. In China, WSE has long been accused of being overpriced compared with its competitors. “There is a total of 20 levels with 16 classes for each level. The first three levels charge 127,000 yuan, the first six would be 155,300 yuan, and for nine levels it is 176,000 yuan,” Kevin, a sales person with the center’s Dongzhimen branch, told the Beijing Youth Daily. WSE claims its top levels help a student gain native-level fluency. 

 


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