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Student Haunted By $8,000 Fee Help Loans Years After College Collapse

Adam Weber has vowed he will not repay his VET FEE-HELP loan.

The now 27-year-old recruitment consultant was one of 1,600 students across the country caught up in the collapse of the Australia Careers Institute (ACI), which owned the Sage Institute of Fitness among other education facilities.

The ACI went into voluntary administration on February 8, 2017.

Weber was seven months into the 12-month Diploma of Fitness Coaching when he was informed via a Facebook message that the Institute was closing and he would be unable to complete his studies. Weber claims he and other students were told they would not have to repay their loans as the Institute closing was out of their control.

Sage collapsed in February 2017. Photo: Instagram/ sage_fitness

Four weeks ago, Weber was shocked when he was informed by a tax agent that he owed over $8,000 in fee repayments from his time at Sage. He was told he owed this money despite receiving no course credit from his study that he could use at other training centres.

"If I had something from my studies I would have no problem paying for it but I haven't got anything," Weber told 10 daily.

"I am not going to pay that. I have bills that can go towards and other things that I can save for … I don't want to hand over my money for nothing."

Weber chose to study at Sage because they offered a Diploma of Fitness Coaching -- the only diploma of its type in the country. Due to its unique nature, the course cost students $20,000 for the 12-month period

READ MORE: Huge Fines, Prison For University 'Contract Cheating' Services

Weber claims he didn't get any recognition for his studies. Photo: Instagram/ sage_fitness

After Sage collapsed, Weber told 10 daily he and other students tried to apply to other fitness colleges but were repeatedly told their months of study were not recognised by other institutions.

"I went to start another course and they told me that nothing could be recognised and that I would have to start again," Weber said.

"It wasn’t recognised, we learned a lot but they weren’t recognised or accredited."

A former teacher at the Sage Institute of Fitness told 10 daily students were left without any recognition for their work, and for the money they spent.

"They were lured into the smoke and mirrors ... they basically said you have to start again. You get no credit for what you have done," the teacher, who asked not to be identified, said.

"This was a very expensive face-to-face course and it was a diploma course so this was up a level ... the teachers and admin staff were great but they were not being funded."

The diploma course was 'very expensive'. Photo: Getty Images.

Former students of the Sage Institute of Fitness have a redress available to them which may void their fees, the Australian Ombudsman told 10 daily in an email. The scheme came into effect on January 1 2019.

"... Complainants are offered a deferment of the compulsory student loan repayments while the Office assesses their complaint, which means they are not required to make payments to the Australian Tax Office in relation to the VET FEE-HELP loan," the email said.

Students like Weber are able to apply to have their fees waived if they have incurred a VET FEE-HELP debt due to "inappropriate conduct by an education provider".

People who feel they fit this category can apply to have their debt removed online.

Adam Weber has been in contact with the Ombudsman and was told his dispute could take up to 12 months to resolve. Until then, he's put his repayments on hold.

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Sage was endorsed by Steve "Commando" Willis. Photo: Instagram/ sage_fitness

Weber also said he felt scammed by Sage Institute of Fitness. He told 10 daily information he was given when he applied differed from his course experience.

"As soon as I called them everything was a rush to get in. I was told that I had to come in and sign-up today because there was only three spaces left, but three weeks into the class people were still coming in," Weber said.

Since their collapse, Sage has copped criticism for the way they managed money.

A hearing in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in October 2017 revealed Sage spent a massive $6 million in a marketing splurge that featured Steve "Commando" Willis. The hearing also heard that the collage earned $32 million over two years through the now-scrapped VET FEE-HELP loan scheme but just 45 percent of students graduated from courses.

At the time, administrator Ferrier Hodgson took over ACI after federal government payments ceased in November/December 2016 in light of the low course completion rate.

Ferrier Hodgson has since been acquired by auditing firm KPMG. When contacted by 10 daily for comment, the firm said it was unable to provide direct comment on the situation, as the Sage case was finalised before Ferrier Hodgson became part of KPMG, and case files were not transferred.

KPMG had acquired Ferrier Hodgson since the ACI collapsed. Photo: Getty Images.

KPMG was able to provide the Sage Creditors Report to 10 daily, where the Institutes' reliance on government money was outlined.

"The Group was reliant upon receipt of VET FEE-HELP advances from the Commonwealth by ACI to ensure it remained solvent," the document reads.

Two years on, Weber is still financially and personally impacted by the collapse of Sage. His dream to run his own boot camp business is now just a distant memory and he said he's been completely turned off ever pursuing a career in the fitness industry.

"It ruined my drive for the fitness industry because I pretty much got scammed and I couldn't go through it again," Weber said.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au