17 May 2024

Ex-student sought $100,000 in damages from TAFE NSW, alleging 'inconvenience and emotional distress' after enrolment dispute

| Oliver Jacques
Outside of Wagga TAFE

Mr Riaz unsuccessfully sought to have his dispute with TAFE NSW heard in the Supreme Court. Photo: TAFE NSW – Wagga Wagga Facebook.

A former student sought $100,000 in damages from TAFE NSW, after the education institute allegedly rejected his application for enrolment in a cyber security course in 2022.

Rana Riaz alleged TAFE NSW caused him “inconvenience and emotional distress” in a matter that was initially heard at Wagga Wagga Local Court in 2023. Earlier this year, Mr Riaz sought to have his case transferred to the Supreme Court, but this application was rejected.

According to the published Supreme Court decision on the transfer application, Mr Riaz alleged he first enrolled in a course called Certificate II in Electrotechnology in 2019 and agreed to pay the course fees in instalments. He claims he withdrew from the course partway through it and therefore should not have been required to pay further instalments of the course fees.

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He further claimed TAFE NSW rejected his applications for enrolment in further courses on the incorrect basis that course fees were outstanding.

Mr Riaz said this was a breach of contract and sought $100,000 in damages for: inconvenience and emotional distress; psychological harm; loss of opportunity to complete the courses; and loss of opportunity to earn an income of $100,000 per year in a career associated with the courses.

In response, TAFE NSW said Mr Riaz submitted an incomplete request to withdraw from the electrotechnology course and that it didn’t process his request. The institute said his withdrawal form was incomplete as it did not indicate the amount of the course fee paid, nor the reason for the withdrawal request.

Mr Riaz applied to enrol in a Certificate IV in Cyber Security course in May 2022, but was notified he wouldn’t be accepted because he hadn’t paid all his fees for the electrotechnology course.

TAFE NSW said it was justified in refusing to accept his further enrolments, because he hadn’t paid his previous course fees by the due date. It believed Mr Riaz was “not entitled to damages for injured feelings or emotional distress for breach of the agreement or any contact”.

In September 2023, Mr Riaz sought to have the claim for damages against TAFE NSW heard by the Wagga Wagga Local Court. Four months later, he applied for his case to be transferred to the Supreme Court – the highest court in NSW.

Supreme court outside

The Supreme Court in Sydney. Photo: Wikipedia.

He said other students may have had the same issues with TAFE NSW, making it a matter of public interest that needed to be addressed in a higher court.

TAFE NSW, represented by high-profile law firm MinterEllison, said the matter was not complex or of public importance and could be decided in a local court.

Supreme Court Judge Sarah McNaughton agreed with TAFE NSW.

“[TAFE NSW] makes persuasive submissions as to why there is not sufficient reason to transfer the matter from the local court to the Supreme Court,” she ruled.

“It is apparent that the local court has sufficient jurisdiction to grant any monetary relief sought, and likely to be obtained, by [Mr Riaz].”

The judge dismissed the matter with costs, meaning Mr Riaz would have to pay TAFE NSW’s legal expenses.

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The case was heard in the Supreme Court civil jurisdiction, meaning it related to property or money and was not a criminal matter.

Region asked TAFE NSW for its response to the judgement.

“TAFE NSW has policies in place to manage student enrolment, withdrawals and refunds. Withdrawals and refunds will be processed according to the terms and conditions which can be found on the TAFE NSW website,” a spokeswoman said.

Region sought information from Wagga Wagga Local Court on the progress and current status of Mr Riaz’s case, but our application for court documents was rejected.

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