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Students Win Case Against German Firm

IFS Studies International GmbH, a Bonn-based intermediary company for overseas students, was ordered by a Beijing court Monday to return tuition fees of 8,333 euros (US$10,200) to nine Chinese students.

The German company has not decided whether it will appeal to a higher court, its lawyer said after the verdict was handed down.

The nine students applied for German schooling through the company and the Beijing Jingcheng Overseas Study Consultation Service, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, in 2001.

Tuition fees had to be paid up front and IFS promised that it would give the money back in its entirety if visa applications by the students were rejected by the German Embassy, according to facts confirmed in the judgment.

But after all were refused visas by the embassy in China, IFS only returned 51,067 euros (US$63,300). A total of 59,400 euros (US$72,500) had been paid, the judgment said.

Zhao Gang, vice-director of the Jingcheng consultation service, said Monday the company was basically satisfied by the court's decision.

Han Junling, the lawyer representing IFS, claimed that Jingcheng had put it in touch with a total of 15 students, six of whom had failed to pay tuition fees in full -- so the German company decided to hold on to the 8,333 euros.

It is not known if the visa applications by the six students were also rejected.

Zhao said the matters surrounding the additional six students were completely separate issues, a view that was shared by the court.

The defendant objected to the jurisdiction of the case in May last year, claiming it should be heard in Germany. But it withdrew the application in January.

In court Monday, Chief Judge Zhang Minghua said: "Although there is an agreement between IFS and Chinese students that relevant disputes should be dealt with at a court in Bonn, the agreement is not suitable for this case as the plaintiff is Jingcheng."

Furthermore, the payment of the tuition fees and their partial return occurred in Beijing, so Chinese law was closest to the dispute, Zhang said.

"The reason why there are more and more lawsuits involving intermediary organizations for studying abroad is the organizations' illegal operations," the judge said.

Zhang said students who intend to study abroad and use intermediary organizations should err on the side of caution when signing contracts and make sure they are protected by the law.

(China Daily March 16, 2004)

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