6 Ways TEFL Certificate Course Providers Try to Rip You Off Part 4 – The University Language Institute

By regular and popular guest writer “TEFLista”

“Walks Like a Duck, Quacks Like a Duck, But Sometimes It’s a Toad: The University Language Institute.

When I started writing this guest piece series about two years ago, I never thought I would ever end up writing about universities and how some of them could be misleading people. If there’s one place that ought to be good for TEFL training then surely it must be at a university, right? Well, this is something that I would really like to believe, but unfortunately it’s not always the case as far as TEFL certificate courses are concerned.

Now, before some of you get all bent out of shape, I want to preface this post by saying that just like anything else, quality control in education can be a very broad tent. Visit a university in the States and you will likely find that everyone employed has at least a relevant MA or a PhD, and quite experienced too. The best universities in developing countries may approach that, but visit a few “university language institutes” (note the words “language institutes”) in countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, and you might be surprised to learn that in some cases only 10 percent of the teachers working there even have a relevant qualification. To put it another way, a university and its language institute may be near polar opposites in terms of quality, even though they are both located on the same campus. Let’s begin by looking into some of their quirky relationships and why this is so.

What They Are and What They Do

If the concept is new to you, then the first thing you need to know is what university language institutes are and what they do. By and large, most university language institutes offer similar services to private language schools, but often on a larger scale. Overseas, the majority of their courses are usually English language courses and courses in the local language. In Korea, you’ll find that many of them have large English language and Korean language programs, and in Japan you’ll see many that have large English language and Japanese language programs. They may also have courses in various other languages, test preparation, and sometimes the odd TEFL certificate course too. All of this housed under one roof as the “university language institute” and is often located somewhere on or near the university campus, or sometimes in a completely separate downtown location.

In general, courses are non-credit and are designed for a range of clientele. There are usually classes for business people, adults, and young learners, and even “mothers’ classes”. Courses are usually taught throughout the day, but early mornings, evening and weekends are often the busiest times.

What They Are Not

Don’t confuse the university language institute with the department of English. That department is almost always housed elsewhere on campus and offers credit courses for university students.

Some Important Differences

The first thing to know about university language institutes, which are sometimes also called language centers, is that they are almost always autonomous institutions that have a business relationship with the university. Simply put, this means that the institute can pretty much do as it pleases so long as it gives back a certain percentage of its profits and doesn’t defame anyone (some aren’t always so successful with the latter!) In return, the institute gets to use the university’s name for the purposes of marketing. Keep in mind that there are many other businesses on campus that also do the same thing , such as restaurants, clothing shops, you name it… When thinking about taking a course at a university language institute, it’s always best from a consumer point of view to think about them in the very same way that you would any other business.

Another important difference is that language institutes may follow different business models. The way that all universities work is that they collect money from students and then cover their expenses, which includes a set rate for teacher salaries. While many language institutes may also do this, they often don’t have to and they are free to experiment as they wish. They could, if they so choose, elect to become involved in a system of profit sharing, whereby a certain number of individuals take a percentage of the net profits. In this case, people stand to make more if they have more students. The danger here is that this sort of business model can lead to a mentality that the number of “bums on seats” and full classrooms is more important than quality of instruction. Worse yet, they may even place people on your TEFL course that clearly ought not be there in the first place.

The quality of teaching is a third factor that can set the two apart. Because they are autonomous institutions, they can also hire anyone they want – including anyone with a pulse and a passport – if they so wish. They may have some very good trainers or some completely unqualified ones, there’s no real way of telling unless you properly check them out as I’ve suggested in other parts of this series. Chances are, though, that if there are some unqualified people working on campus, then the university language institute is where you’d find them.

Same Same But Different

There’s a saying in Thailand that often gets printed on T-shirts that goes “same same but different”. So far we’ve looked at the differences, but it’s the use of the same university name at the language institute that can really dupe people into taking a bad TEFL course. Somehow when people see the word ‘university’ they completely forget about the institute part altogether and let their guard down, so all the important things go unchecked. They assume that everything is high quality and it’s all being carefully looked after.

Institutes are masters of exploiting the university name, too – to the point where many of them can be downright misleading. For example, the “About Us” sections on language institute websites may only mention facts about the university and nothing about the actual institute at all, and all in a misleading way. The actual institute may be only two years old, have two hundred students and employ unqualified staff, but what they’ll put up on their page is spruced up university information. So what you’ll read is something like “X University has a 75 year history of providing outstanding education and is one of the best universities in the country… with more than 30,000 students and 10 international programs we offer… our campus is more beautiful than the Swiss Alps.”

When It All Goes Wrong

For a shining example of how this arrangement can go seriously wrong, you need look no further than what happened this week in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After apparently failing an inspection by immigration officials, Chiang Mai University replaced the administration at its Language Institute (LICMU) and halted all of its international programs on the first of the month. In the weeks approaching the deadline, more than 250 students were left in limbo when the University failed to renew or provide support for educational visas. The policy impacted all foreign students, including those enrolled in language, volunteer and cultural exchange programs and out of sheer frustration many simply gave up and returned to their homelands.

For more on this sudden development, see this thread on ThaiVisa forums:

CMU fails to provide visa support documents

From Ducks to Toads to Horses and Beyond

In closing, I’d like to end our discussion that began with ducks and toads by brining one last animal into the petting zoo. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says ‘good people get cheated, just as good horses get ridden’. I think that there’s certainly a lot of truth in that as far as TEFL certificate courses are concerned and what we’ve seen in the example above really isn’t all that different from what we’ve already seen in this series, in that it all boils down to people not fully understanding what it is that they are signing up for, then paying and not getting the goods. Hopefully, after reading this piece, you’ll think twice before dashing for the credit card and signing up for anything with name ‘university’ in it. And with any luck, you might remember a few important animals, too!”

Many thanks as ever to TEFLista, whose dedication to scam busting puts my own brief efforts to shame!

Please also have a look at Parts One to Three of this series:

Bait and switch/ Linguistics dictionary

Call anyone a trainer

“Guaranteed jobs”

This entry was posted in Chiang Mai University, Teacher training, Teaching English in Thailand, TEFL certificate. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to 6 Ways TEFL Certificate Course Providers Try to Rip You Off Part 4 – The University Language Institute

  1. Natalia says:

    i must take issue w/ the example countries. most unis i’ve seen in developed countries have separate language institutes, knowingly not as serious as the unis. even in the top 100 world unis you’ll find these hideous money making machines.

  2. TEFLista says:

    With regard to the CMU visa mess, here’s an official announcement that will make your head spin:

    International University Service (IUS) has been advertising on its websites including: http://www.teflcmu.com , http://www.studythaicmu.com , http://www.exchangecmu.com , http://www.lecturecmu.com and in other types of media, therefore, students have understood that IUS was previously part of Language Institute Chiang Mai University. In addition, many people have continued to enquire about International University Service (IUS) matters.
    To clarify, Language Institute Chiang Mai University wishes to inform the following information:

    1.IUS has never been officially approved as a business entity at Language Institute Chiang Mai University.

    2.IUS had performed similar activities to those of Language Institute Chiang Mai University, but Language Institute Chiang Mai University did not have any involvement. In addition, IUS used Language Institute Chiang Mai University’s name and logo to operate which was illegal. Chiang Mai University has already lodged this issue with legal investigators in order to prosecute the responsible offender(s).

    3.Language Institute Chiang Mai University affirms that any actions performed by IUS do not involve Language Institute Chiang Mai University, and are out of Language Institute Chiang Mai University’s responsibility.

    4.With this announcement, Language Institute Chiang Mai University demands International University Service (IUS) to immediately cease and desist all activities using Language Institute Chiang Mai University’s name in any of their activities. If such action continues, Language Institute Chiang Mai University will be left with little recourse but to issue legal proceedings with those offender(s).

    5.Any person wishes to contact IUS, please directly contact:
    Mrs. Sansanee Wannangkoon CEO of IUS Tel. 084-0422727
    Mr. Matthew John Kay Director of IUS Tel. 084-8044188

    Announced on 1st October 2010

    (Assistant Professor Rien Loveemongkol)
    Director of Language Institute Chiang Mai University

  3. Alex Case says:

    Hi TEFLista

    I’m not following the story very closely, but I can’t work out what the comment means. Who or what is an IUS??

    Any comment on Natalia’s feedback?

  4. TEFLista says:

    IUS stands for International University Services and according to CMU, they were a company that processed the students visas. Sansanee Wannangkoon was the (now) former Director of the Language Institute and Matt Kay was the (now) former Director of TEFL and International programs that operated from within the Institutes’s offices. From the posts it’s clear that profit sharing was involved and people were taking a large cut of things — 40% I believe (and with over 300 students that must have been big bucks). If you read through the lines a bit, it would appear that the Institute suspects IUS of selling students visas, among other things. How that would work would be to sell a 1-year visa to a foreign student. The student pays, gets the visa, and then never attends classes. Then the people in charge (the two directors) and the people that work for intentionally don’t report anything to immigration. Then when immigration did an inspection and failed, IUS refused to hand over class lists and information about about suspicious students. That’s when CMU did a house cleaning and sacked the whole lot.

  5. TEFLista says:

    I think that Natalia makes a good point and there are probably some bad institutes everywhere. In the States many of them seem a bit money grubbing at times, but never anything like what I’ve posted above. I guess the thing there that’s most alarming is the trend of private language institutes actually setting up shop ON campus. ELS comes to mind.

    I’ve also come across some very impressive programs in the States, too, so it can really be a mixed bag.

  6. K. Baxter says:

    I am at a loss of what to do at this point. I became aware of the ‘problem’ a couple of weeks ago. I am registered for an on campus CMU TEFL course and have paid with credit card. I leave my country to fly to CM in three weeks. I have been trying to smooth out last minute arrangements with the now uniTEFL. How do I retrieve my original payment as I am unable to receive response from CM university. It was quoted to me by staff at UniTEFL that I would have to inquire at the university for a refund, however, they would ‘honour’ my CMUTEFL payment even though the UniTEFL staff are not receiving pay for a couple of months. Can someone advise me?

  7. TEFLista says:

    Dear K:

    Sorry to hear that you’ve been involved in the mess.

    CMU TEFL was run by Matt Kay and he was fired by the University for dubious business practices. After getting sacked, he renamed the company UniTEFL and moved the company into rented office space elsewhere in Chiang Mai. They have a great looking website, but you should avoid this company because it is really shady and they will tell you just about anything in order to take your money. The best thing to do is to contact your credit card company immediately and tell them the the course is no longer being offered as it was advertised. You should be able to get your money back.

  8. Matt Kay says:

    You should be very careful of the comments that you make on this site Mr. Alex Case. You might reaquaint yourself with Thai CRIMINAL libel laws; if you would rather not, I will have my lawyer do it for you. Firstly, I have absolutely nothing to do with UniTEFL. This was set up by the former CMU TEFL staff when Chiang Mai University suddenly stopped all ‘foreign’ programs at the Language Institute, CMU, as a way of honoring the money paid by those students and which was not going to be paid back to them by by CMU. It had nothing to do with so-called “dubious business practices” – rather it had to do with something of which I cannot mention in a public forum, but which the 25 staff who lost their jobs are well-aware. It was despicable reason and something that would have you arrested in any other country. I ran those programs at LICMU for over 7 years, very successfully, and without incident. The quality of all the programs was often commented upon by students. If in the future, you decide you would like to spread malicious gossip on your website, you might have the decency to at least talk to the target of that gossip. To not do so makes you far worse than the person’s reputation you hope to imugn for your own – I can only guess – commercial reasons. Do the TEFL industry a favour and piss off, I can assure you it doesn’t need garbage like you.

    I, unlike you, can be contacted at anytime by anyone. Let’s meet so we can “discuss” in the good old Aussie way – Matt Kay

  9. Matt Kay says:

    p.s. have the balls – and, if you can drag it up from some hidden depths, the decency to publish my reply – Matt Kay

  10. Alex Case says:

    I always think it makes a great impression to threaten someone twice and insult them many times in your first two comments on their blog, especially when you should actually be addressing your comments to another person (incapable of reading names on comments?) Having not been in Thailand since 1997 and therefore not particularly interested in your story, I have repeatedly turned down offers of information and guest blog posts on you and your organisations, but I will obviously take a lot more interest from now on. But I’m sure anyone thinking of doing business with you can already come to their own conclusions from the tone you choose to use in a public space.

    Really reminds me of how the whole Paul Lowe thing started…

  11. Matt Kay says:

    You have the hide to talk about “threatening someone twice and insulting them” – you have got to be joking. You allow a post up that threatens my reputation – you who have not been to Thailand since 1997 – would you like to enlighten everyone EXACTLY as to why you haven’t been to Thailand in all that time?

  12. Alex Case says:

    I haven’t been to Switzerland since 1991 or to Bangladesh since 1979. Would you like to ask me the reason for those as well?? Do you really think these irrational attacks are either going to make me want to help you or to give a good impression of you to anyone reading? So far their main effect has been to boost the stats of this almost forgotten post. Please do carry on if you want this post to be near the top of the Google rankings for searches of your name

  13. Alex Case says:

    Two emails from matt.teflcmu@gmail.com in quick succession:

    “Your name is on the site, pal! So take the fucking post down, you-piece-of-shit Matt Kay”

    “you fucked with the wrong bunny, cunt! let’s see how much rep can stand up to?”

    I’m going to have to check that this really is Matt Kay, because it really does seem stupid beyond belief to start this kind of abuse without even first asking someone nicely to take the comment down. And what’s with that email address if he is no longer associated with CMU?

  14. Alex Case says:

    Have Googled the email address and it gets zero hits. If anyone has another email address for Matt Kay, I’d like to contact him and check if this is just someone else trying to ruin his reputation by acting like an idiot

  15. Alex Case says:

    Literally just a couple of minutes after posting that email address, I got this response to an email to the same address:

    “[automated response]

    This email address in no longer in use.”

    curiouser and curiouser!

  16. TEFLista says:

    Looks like you’re not the only one who feels that he has a bad mouth. Someone did actually pickup the phone and call him a while back:


  17. Alex Case says:

    And just like that is stopped. Do you think he was so drunk when he commented that he’s completely forgotten even being here?

    About the disappearing email address, these are the possible reasons:
    – It was someone else pretending to be Matt Kay, and me suggesting that made them think they’d been rumbled
    – Matt Kay thought he’d been rumbled for still using a CMU address
    – Matt Kay didn’t want to receive any more complaining emails or otherwise be traced, so he quit his email address as soon as I made it public

    Number three sounds the most plausible to me

    Anyhow, Matt Kay or not, he’s put me onto UniTEFL and I will be trying my best TEFL Blacklist/ TEFL tradesman-style demolition of the place very shortly

  18. dullard says:

    Alex probably cannot afford it being a TEFLer.

  19. TEFLista says:

    I especially like the part where he says that it wasn’t the dubious business practices, so much as the other despicable things that he and his staff have done, that really got his organization tossed out of the University. No doubt, there’s a very long list of those.

    One of them most certainly includes listing his bio on the CMU website as having a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Queensland, when he does not and has never attended as a post graduate there. He also signed hundreds of posts as ‘Dr.’ all over the blogsphere, and probably thousands more in letters and various emails. This went on for a period of about six years or so and it’s clear that the university must have known, but simply didn’t care because he was making money for them. It’s not at all surprising. One of my best friends worked at a major university in Thailand for nearly six years and the only thing his employer asked him for was a black and white photocopy of his highest degree.

    It’s sad that 300 students were embroiled in the big mess that happened in October. And I hate to say it, but this all could have been avoided. More people ought to read TEFLtastic. He was busted here on this very blog nearly two years ago:


  20. TEFLista says:

    Further to my last comment, I’d like to settle the issue of Mr. Kay’s qualifications once and for all, so that we don’t see a repeat of the CMU disaster happening at another university elsewhere.

    As I’ve pointed out above, a thesis for him is not in the UQ library where it would be if he actually had one. Unfortunately, once people get caught in a lie they often tell several more in order to cover up the the first, and this is exactly what Mr. Kay and some of his staff members have been doing in form letter that gets sent out to anyone who does actually bother to ask. Below are some excerpts from the letter followed by my response. The letter is in itself a big red flag that he doesn’t have the qualifications he claims and it’s also a good example of how he and staff members are determined to deliberately mislead people into thinking otherwise.

    Excerpt 1:
    “It is not a requirement of every department to file it’s dissertations in the Library. There are many unpublished dissertations that never are kept. Matter of fact that specific University doesn’t require a dissertation for it’s PhD. They can write a series of articles but they have to be published.”
    My Response:

    Knowing that the above was rubbish, I contacted the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at UQ just to confirm things. They had plenty to say, including: “…I can also confirm that all theses are publicly available and that Australian practices conform to international practices in not conferring doctorates on the basis of publications alone. A thesis must be submitted.”

    UQ now publishes a complete list of PhD in Philosophy graduate placements, including a THESIS topic for each and every one of them:

    Graduate Placements:

    They can all be crossed checked and show up in the UQ Library:
    Excerpt 2:

    “So what you suggest is not the most accurate way to find out about one’s credentials. An easier way is to contact the Alum organization. They will have records.”
    My Response:

    Well, no. He has a BA in Philosophy from UQ, so they would confirm that he is an alum. But, of course, you know this. The best way is online, which is quick, easy and absolutely free. Just put in the name (Matthew John Kay) and date of birth, and you will get back the type of degree and the year that it was awarded. It’s very simple and you can do this here:

    Verification of qualifications

    Well there you have it and we all now know where everything stands. So for all of you who live in Thailand, the next time you see Matt Kay walking about, don’t forget to whistle ‘Happy Birthday’.

  21. Luigi says:

    I was in Thailand in October 2010 and I think I met Mr (Dr?) Matt Key at CMU Language Institute while this disaster was unfolding and I was about to enlist myself for the TEFL + the one year (!) Thai language course at the Language Institute of Chiang Mai University (I have not done that, yet!). The person I met was totally out of control, speaking English with words that is better I do not reproduce here (for me, that I do not have English as a first, second or third language, that was rather odd for a PhD. I can assure yiou that in Europe PhDs sound and look much better). I enjoyed immensely your informative posting, that is perfect just now that I am (I was?) about to enlist myself for the UniTEFL+Thai language in Chiang Mai beginning of 2011. Thank you very much for your services and please continue to keep the information on this matter unfolding.
    Kind regards
    Luigi Marcon
    P.S.: I cannot do the search at QU as you suggest because I cannot find the date of birth of Mr (Dr?) Matthew Kay. Do you know it?

  22. Luigi says:

    Just a word of clarification. What I have heard in situ from former students about the (former) TEFL at CMU is that the course was excellent. If the same teachers, and the overall set-up (less the CMU name) have now moved to UniTEFL we can reasonably assume a similar result, don’t we? As it appears, the Language Institute of CMU will also restart with a TEFL programme and also here there is reason to assume an excellent TEFL course given the very high local reputation of Chiang Mai University, including of its Language Institute. In business they say that competion is good, so let’s hope for the best on this one and, on this auspicious day, wish all a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2011!.

  23. TEFLista says:

    Thanks for your comments, Luigi.

    My heart really goes out to the 300 people who had their lives turned completely upside down over all of this. It took a lot of research to write the above post, but hopefully it might help such a thing from ever happening again. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to sign up with UniTEFL, either. Anyone considering a course with them would be wise to read Alex’s excellent follow up piece:

    Do Not Study With UniTEFL

  24. Thomas says:

    I was unfortunate enough to have my time, trust and money taken from me by (Dr?!) Matthew John Kay.
    He claimed he was a graduate from a NIDA – a top Australian Drama School – his name is not on the graduates page. Also his PhD, if he has nothing to hide and has a PhD why is he so secretative about it. What uni, where, when?
    The game is up Matt, you can call lawyers, write threatening emails and mislead up to a point, but the fact is you have been CAUGHT. Shame on you.
    Before you babble on about the staff who lost their jobs, students who lost money, classes and visas etc. Why did all this come about? Because of your unprofessional approach to learning and teaching.
    Everytime your name or business is ‘Googled’ people will see the truth. You took my time and money, but at least I have my integrity. Well done Alex Case your having this website.

  25. ALF says:

    I don’t think Dr Matthew Kay / Matt Kay was drunk. He has a nasty temper when his lies are uncovered. In his defence, he really seems to have a problem with lying and aggression, and a fixation on personal advancement. Until he accepts his place in life as a real Buddhist should, he will be unhappy and make the world a much worse place.


  26. K. Baxter says:

    I arrived in Chaing Mai and met with the new director at the university language institute. They issued a formal letter stating that Matt Kay was running a fradulent bank account and that the university had no access to this account. I forwarded this letter and copies of all my emails to and from CMUTEFL from last year to my credit card company and they refunded the money to me. Both parties involved still deny having my money that I paid for the program on campus. Nobody seems to have the money. hmm.
    Save all of your emails and correspondence and submit to your credit card company.

  27. Billy says:

    Someone has systematically stolen lots of money from innocent foreigners. Either it’s one of the top universities in Thailand, or it’s a failed Australian soap opera actor who lies about having a PhD.

    Matt was married briefly to a semi-famous actress named Lenore Smith who starred in a popular 1980s Australian soap opera, Flying Doctors.

    “In 1985 Lenore married actor Matt Kay.”


    He was a bit-part actor for many years in Australia, but his acting career never really took off until he reached Chiang Mai. He was top billing for around 7 years at the CMU LI before the curtain fell on a long and undistinguished acting career (we hope).

    ‘Dr’ Matt to Dr Who.

  28. TEFLista says:

    Thanks, Billy — great post. Any video footage?

  29. Andy says:

    Just heard from a friend that the CMUTEFL scam is starting up again next month. Now, that they’ve got rid of Mat Kay, who was taking a big cut of the money, they’re going to try to scam some more poor fools into giving their money to Chiang Mai University. Beware and don’t give your money to these robbers. A proper CELTA can be had for the same money. So, don’t let them cheat you with their crap training.

  30. Jono says:

    Came upon on this from the link of a newer thread about the new CMU TEFL that’s been started, hate to rehash an old topic but one thing that needs to be said about all this is that if you read the statement put out by the University (signed off by one; Assistant Professor Rien Loveemongkol) It seems clear to me that the University had been letting this scam go on for several years ‘illegally using their name and issuing certificates from a dept located on their campus’ without realising it! Imagine that! One of the top 5 universities in Thailand so incompetent they don’t even know what’s going on inside their own campus, how could you not notice 200 foreign students tromping in every day, besides I have a receipt here for the monies I paid for my Thai course with the Chiang Mai university name on it, and they signed my visa papers. Others have TEFL certificates with ‘Chiang Mai University’ on it. Seems to me they are as big a liars and actors as ‘Dr’ Matt Kay himself!!

  31. TEFLista says:

    The University most certainly knew all about it. The ‘illegally using their name and issuing certificates …’ letter was written after Kay had been told to stop the program. Kay promoted the program through websites that he owned and were not of the CMU domain (the University might have been ignorant about that one…), but Kay’s websites stayed up long after being told to halt the program and he continued using them to recruit for his courses long afterwards. I suspect than many didn’t even know about the disaster until it was time for their course, at which time they were probably told that it had been renamed to UniTEFL and moved to a new location.

  32. TEFLista says:

    The newer thread about about the so-called ‘new’ CMU TEFL program can be found here:


    It would appear that Kay’s former No. 2 man is now back at the helm and trying to reinvent
    the wheel, only this time without Kay’s share of the profits.

  33. Tom says:

    Excellent article (all 4 parts!). Thanks for taking the time to write this. It is informative and very helpful.

  34. TEFLista says:

    You are very welcome. Part 5 is located here:

    Slippery Accreditation, Multiple Websites

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