Nova, the largest English-language school operator in Japan and well-known for its fuzzy pink mascot, is in dire straights, having been ordered last week to suspend part of its operations for six months after it was found to have deceived its students and violated consumer protection laws. While selling its courses as an opportunity to overcome differences in social status, actual students complained of various illegal tactics: the distribution of pamphlets claiming students can schedule classes for whenever they want (when in fact there was a shortage of teachers at peak hours), for example, and claims leading students to believe that the “cool-off period” (period during which a contract can be canceled) is shorter than the law actually specifies. A total of 18 different types of violations are reported to have been committed by Nova, affecting not only students [Ja] but teachers as well [Ja]. With Nova being repeatedly slammed by the media over these recent events, some have predicted this may be the beginning of the end for the English-school operator.
Blogger individualfrog, a teacher at Nova, writes:
The evil company I work for, NOVA, has been hit with an order from the Ministry of Business or something that it can't sign up new students for six months. I'm fairly sure this will be the end of NOVA or at least NOVA as we know it, since the majority of students don't stick around for long–English school is like the gym in Japan, something you sign up for as your New Year's Resolution but don't actually go to. This has been an amazingly bad year for NOVA, with some teachers getting busted for drugs, another teacher murdered, and the scandal that lead to this ruling–they were basically ripping off students who canceled.
Blogger southofreality, a former teacher at Nova, is skeptical about the future of the company:
I’ve heard that NOVA (the eikaiwa side) makes most (90% plus) of it’s revenue through new student contracts. New limitations have been put into place to limit the duration of new student contracts. This will cause NOVA to become shortsighted when it comes to calculating monetary assests. It’ll only be able to count on short-term revenues.
Many Japanese bloggers also expressed their thoughts about the recent news. One blogger questions the quality of teachers at Nova:
I guess people pay a large amount of money to take lessons because they have a hope, but the company was taking advantage of people's desire to improve and eating up people's dreams. When I saw lines like “small classes” or “all native instructors”, I thought it must have been costing them a huge amount of money to recruit instructors. But if put in different words, even those backpackers who just pass through Japan can possibly be recruited as teachers; therefore the quality of the teachers is hugely questionable.
Another blogger, fametti, puts some of the responsibility on consumers as well:
This is not just a problem of the company, but also of the consumers, who are so used to having everything done for them that they have forgotten to engage actively, and are thus also responsible.
In Japan today, there is a widespread attitude of “it's all your fault” when something happens.
I guess Japan is increasingly becoming a country where no one takes initiative on their own.
Blogger Minatsuki, a Nova student, writes:
I don't intend to cancel my contract so I never have any problems associated with cancellation. However, when I signed the contract, the staff made me buy a lot of VOICE tickets (tickets for using the freetalk room) even though I still didn't really understand the system back then. I still have quite a few of them left. I think they will expire in October next year so I have to use them up somehow by then… Oh, yes, and it is true that the catch phrase “you can make an appointment whenever you want” is a lie. It has always been the same since the time I started (about 10 years ago). At the beginning, I was angry, thinking “that catchphrase is a complete lie!” in my mind. Having said that, it is NOVA that has helped me, a person who could not understand nor speak English at all, improve my English to the level at which I am now. A while after I started taking lessons at NOVA, though, I started to realise that “I will not be able to speak English just because I am going to an Engish conversation school. After all, if I don't make any effort, nothing will change. NOVA is a place where I can try out what I have learned.” In Japan, because you rarely have a chance to meet foreiners in your daily life, I thank NOVA for providing me with the environment in which I can talk with a foreigner in a small room and situtations in which I have to force myself to spit out answers. I thank them, but… it is not good to be greedy and they seem to have gone too far. So maybe it is …… I hope that they will revise their business management and increase the number of instructors so that people can schedule an appointment for whatever time they want.
Finally, one blogger takes a more tongue-and-cheek approach to the whole thing, writing:
I guess if you are running a student recruitment campaign [offering no sign-up fees] all the time, then it's not really a campaign, is it?
It's only natural that they got accused of it [running the campaign].
But then, the clothing store in my neighbourhood has been having a “closing sale” for ages and has not closed yet.
I wonder if this is ok?