A small Islamic school in Brisbane, Australia is suing the Saudi government for AUS$2.1m ($2.1m) in a last-ditch attempt to recoup money owed to it in unpaid school fees for Saudi pupils.
The Australian International Islamic College has claimed the oil-rich kingdom has repeatedly failed to pay the outstanding charges related to tens of Saudi nationals educated at the school.
“The total outstanding fees at the moment are just over $2m. We’ve spent a lot of money trying to recover this money,” Keysar Trad, the school’s CEO, told Arabian Business.
The dispute dates back to an earlier error made by the school, which saw it wrongly receive Australian government funding to educate the Saudi pupils from 2005 to 2008.
Parents of overseas pupils in Australia must prove they can pay AUS$8,000 a year to put their children through education in the country. But in this case the student’s parents, on territory education scholarships from Saudi Arabia, were not billed.
When the error was discovered in 2008, the school was forced to repay the government grants. But the error has been compounded by the AUS$1.2m in fees the school claims it is owed by the government of Saudi Arabia, which the Gulf state has refused to pay.
“We have had to take out loans because we have had to pay the government money back. Our loans are quite substantial and are in excess of the amount that is owed to us,” said Trad.
The school has played host to up to 120 Saudi students each educational year.
“The alternative [to us taking legal action] is that a small school goes into substantial debt and pays interest for the education of Saudi pupils. The Saudi embassy to this day has not given us a legitimate reason as to why this money has not been paid.”
An estimated 130,000 Saudi students are educated abroad each year, largely on scholarships funded by the Gulf kingdom’s government. An estimated eight percent of pupils are educated in Australia, with the US receiving the bulk of Saudi students.
David Roberts, executive director of Independent Schools Queensland, said the Brisbane school is seeking to recover both the back-payments for the years from 2005 to 2008 and the fees since then.
“One is for the period 2005-2008 in which the school has had to pay back to the government $1.4m for funding it received for the students. The school has been trying to get that money back because it should have been the government or the sponsoring organisation out of Saudi paying it,” he said.
“The second lot of debt relates to the fact that since 2009, the school has started rightly charging the parents and issuing them with invoices to give to the Saudi cultural mission in Canberra. There is about $70,000 of that money also outstanding.”
In court documents filed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales, the Australian International Islamic College claims the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education provided assurances to it and the local and federal government of Australia that “the costs of educating the children of scholarship recipients who were studying at the college would be met by the defendants”.
“It is clear that the Saudi pupils made the promise to the Australian government that they would pay $8,000 per year for the education of their children – where is that money?” said Trad.