Paying ”Uang Muka” for Language Courses

One of the hallmarks of the Rumah Bahasa scandal was the issue of ”uang muka”, an Indonesian phrase which translates loosely as ”an up-front payment”. One of our main informants, a woman called Dita, has stressed that most of the victims of Frendy Horas, the owner of the now-bankrupt, language-school chain, were conned into paying ”uang muka” for courses that they were promised would be delivered over the following 12 month period.

How did these promises pan out? Well quite simply, the courses never happened. As Dita explained, there were a variety of excuses made as to why the courses were not offered. They didn’t have a sufficient number of students of the right level to form a class. They didn’t have enough teachers to fill the schedule. Whatever Horas said, it was simply a way to play for time.

In the end Dita’s course never started and she, like so many other Rumah Bahasa victims, ended up Rp 6 million out of pocket. One of the lessons that Dita drew from the experience is to be very wary of language schools which ask you to make large up-front payments of many millions of rupiah. It is easy to see why this mode of payment would appeal to a fraudster such as Horas. A confidence trickster such as Horas could quickly amass a large amount of cash and then run. This is pretty much what happened at all 5 former Rumah Bahasa schools.

Worryingly, Language and Beyond, a school which occupies the former Rumah Bahasa Bintaro and even employs many of its staff, is now asking for ”uang muka” of up to Rp25 million for some its courses, though it claims to be offering discounts to a mere Rp 12 million, or around $1000. This is all very suspicious to us. What kind of language school has administration fees of Rp 7million? You could study English at chains like LIA for a couple of years for this sort of money. Why does Language and Beyond ask that much just to register a new customer?

Now it is true that Wall Street Indonesia, a well-known local franchise of an international brand, ask for ”uang muka”. Customers at WSI make a sizable up-front payment for a membership, which they can then use over the coming months. Perhaps this system was the inspiration for Frendy Horas. However, the difference between WSI, which is a reputable company with branches in 28 countries, and Rumah Bahasa, an Indonesian no-name start-up, is very stark. Similarly, Language and Beyond is a no-name start up with a silly name. Buyer beware. We strongly advise people to steer clear of unknown, new brands of language school that are asking for large ”uang muka” payments. Established brands offer a far safer bet.

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