The institute says the allegations framed against them are baseless
LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu
Bhutanese aspiring to leave abroad have alleged Chundu Training Institute (CTI) of deceiving them through cunning assurances to provide them with the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT) voucher and registration for test seats.
It all started sometime in September 2021 when the institute announced on their social media platforms introducing CTI as the first-ever private TOEFL authorized test center in the country.
Clients say they approached the institute through calls and personal visits to avail of their services, at a time when the nation was faced with restrictions because of the pandemic.
However, later they discovered CTI had deceived them after the institute failed to keep the promises to procure the remaining TOEFL vouchers quickly for every client, accommodate all the test intake of 800 by December 2021, and assist them in the registration process for the test seats.
Bhutan Times received a 13-page complaint letter including the screenshots of group conversations along with the list of about 100 contact numbers and interviewed 35 clients of whom, 33 said the institute cheated them with false promises.
They allege the institute of making false promises of first-come-first-served policy, batch-wise registration of test seats, and personally informing clients living away from Thimphu so that they could make proper travel arrangements for registration.
They also claim that while CTI said they would be priorly informed of any updates regarding TOEFL, whereby they would propagate it to the clients, test dates have been released without any information to the institute.
In addition, referring to the recent media report, they say that the institute had initially acquired about 100 TOEFL vouchers that were already distributed to the clients when in the media, they bragged of acquiring 200 test vouchers.
One interviewee said that the institute promised his exam for October, but there was no response about the exam date. “When I enquired again, they told me it was already filled and assured me they would provide a slot in November, which also did not happen.”
“I waited again and then I was told the seats were already full. I didn’t get my seat as they promised,” he added.
“Despite waiting for a long time in Thimphu hoping to get a test voucher and seat, I was disappointed after learning that we were cheated. I underwent a seven-day quarantine to reach Thimphu. Now I am looking for a text voucher from another firm,” a woman said.
Another client said that the institute responded simply stating that the matter has been out of their control. “They say the institute may not be able to register us and that they have no information about TOEFL updates.”
He added the institute informed them they were trying for the rapid procurement of TOEFL vouchers and increasing the test intakes. “But neither have the vouchers arrived nor have numbers of test intakes been increased. The seats till May 2022 have been occupied and filled.”
However, one client said that the institute had briefed all details at the beginning about the process. “While the institute failed to keep the promise, they conducted virtual meetings several times to clarify what had happened,” he said, adding he did not ask for a refund and will wait to do his exam in March.
Meanwhile, many are upset and feel deprived of the opportunity to register for the TOEFL test saying they would have explored alternatives had the CTI been genuine and transparent from the beginning.
Refund and exorbitant tuition fees
While many have asked for a refund of Nu 14,700, the fees for the tutorial still remain a big dilemma among the clients while some did not get the refund.
“We asked them for a refund and they refunded just the exam fee. Some of us even asked for a 50 percent refund for the classes but they refused. I landed up doing my exam in Siliguri,” a client said.
“Initially, we were told to send our bank account details for the refund. Later they told us to personally come and collect the refund. I went to Thimphu to collect the refund despite being busy. But they said the refund was closed,” said another.
A woman said, “The institute informed us that vouchers have already arrived and told either I look for my replacement or they would refund only after getting a replacement themselves,” adding that it has been a long inquiry for the refund and she still awaits it.
Besides, many others who attended the TOEFL class arranged by CTI questioned the credibility of the exorbitant tuition fees of Nu 5,000 for the duration of a 10-hours tutorial and a package of mock tests expecting the insurance of the test seats promised by the institute.
They say another firm provides the same tutorial for lower fees and more duration. “We were soothed with the persuasion that CTI was well-established and highly recognized, their tutors were certified by TOEFL and eventually all clients would be insured the test seats at the end of the day,” one said.
He added the clients had to comply with CTI for the desire of getting the test dates which has been barred for them since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I had actually taken tuition in a firm with lower fees of only Nu 800 for the same duration. But CTI being the only TOEFL test center said it gives priority to their clients, who take the class from them. In desperation to apply for my further studies, I had to take classes from CTI,” said another.
Another said the tuition did not make any difference in her TOEFL exam and now she opted to redo it in IELTS (International English Language Testing System). “I think CTI took advantage of the pandemic as many cannot go to India for the test.”
However, a woman who got a test voucher and was waiting for the exam said the tuition fee was worth it. “Although the tuition was given online, the tutor had given effective tuition. I feel the fees were reasonable.”
CTI refutes allegations
Refuting the allegations, CTI’s head of operations Palden Tshering said that the allegations framed against the institute are baseless.
He said while the first vouchers arrived in September and were released immediately, the balance vouchers did not arrive on time and test dates were getting booked very quickly following which the institute had given the refunds.
“As these people used their own credit card to pay for the test because it is my fiduciary duty to ensure that they get a refund even though the vouchers are prepaid. They all received their refunds,” he said.
He said that the institute had explained to everyone that the vouchers are prepaid. “You pay for the voucher in advance, and we make the order. We transfer the money through the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan to America and they send the voucher codes here and then we distribute them,” he said.
Palden Tshering said that despite being an individual responsible for test registration, the institute helped them by sometimes staying up till 4 in the morning. “We did not treat anyone second-class including those who did not take classes with us. Anybody who walks into this office and asks for help, we have been helping.”
He said their responsibility is to provide a test and ensure that everyone who takes the test is given the required facility. “The second option that we have is the voucher system for the people who do not have access to the credit card because they can only pay for the TOEFL test using an international credit card.”
In addition, he said, the institute never forced its clients to take tuition from them. “We said if you would like to take the class, you have options. But you have the choice to decide where to go,” he said, adding they only advise them on the importance of taking classes to do the test effectively.
He also said that the institute never bragged about the test vouchers on social media. “But we now (as of 10 December 2021) received 300 vouchers and most of them have already been distributed because these are the people who have already paid for the vouchers. They waited for it and they received it. We are also placing the order for more vouchers.”
Besides, Palden Tshering said, the institute is providing an alternative solution with transportation and accommodation services for those who could not register themselves for test seats to register from Guwahati in India.
“For people who said “we have to be able to do it quickly”, this is the option we give and we try to facilitate and help them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the reporter was called to the institute following a mail with questions to clarify the allegations, where CTI had arranged a virtual interview with 18 clients and five in-person interviews for over an hour asking them to comment on the allegations in the presence of the head of the operations.
One client said that the institute has been “very helpful” throughout the process. “We were very familiar with the IELTS but the TOEFL was very new and I was excited when I knew CTI provides the service. They were helpful in each step,” he said.
On tuition fees, one said the tuition was helpful and effective. “Although the course duration was short, it covered all the important contents. It also provided a mock exam at Nu 500 as a complement while other firms charged Nu 1,500,” she said.
Talking about test registration, one said, they were asked to register by themselves “but in case we could not register, they said the institute will help”.
“Since the test date has been released so unexpectedly, it was our own responsibility that we should get ourselves registered for the test. Even to help during the process, they have called us and informed us that now we should register, saying, otherwise, the seats will be all taken,” said another.