The school operated four centres in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville, all of which will close this week, confirmed owner Steven Muller.
Speaking with The PIE News, Muller said a sharp fall in demand for Spanish language schools in Spain which began in 2012 left the company with few resources to cover costs.
“We have been talking since late last year with various investors and although we were very close to an agreement it did not work out in the end,” he explained.
“Up until last week it looked good that we were going to get out of it and that’s frustrating”
“Up until last week it looked good that we were going to get out of it and that’s frustrating. We’ve let our clients and staff down in a way that I never thought could happen for which I sincerely apologise,” he said.
An ex-employee speaking with The PIE News estimates that some 80 staff and teachers have been left unemployed.
There are also estimates that between 80-200 Spanish and English language students across all four centres have paid for courses that they will not receive, including a Chinese student who lost €11,000 for a year’s worth of Spanish courses.
After filing insolvency, a judge will appoint an executor to pay creditors. However, with no funds available it is unlikely course fees will be returned or salaries recuperated.
“There are a few agencies who are owed money,” confirmed Muller. “There will be some damage there. Is it enormous? No, but on a personal level I’m ashamed we won’t be able to pay those fees.
“The main drama is with clients who were with us in the school or made a down payment for a course that was starting in the next few weeks.”
Founded in 2002, the school was accredited by Instituto Cervantes, the Swedish Ministry of Education and for Bildungsurlaub programmes in Germany and won an award for Best Spanish Language School in 2008 and 2011.
In February, staff and teachers in Barcelona went on strike in reaction to not being paid for two months. They were followed by employees in Valencia and Madrid.
“Business went on as normal even though we weren’t getting paid”
“We never had a clear explanation from him that’s why we started the strike,” said the ex-employee. “We wanted him to pay and resolve the situation because it wasn’t right that we were carrying on with operations for his company without being paid.
“And it wasn’t right that we were made to look like liars and thieves,” she went on to say. “He sent an email to the agencies saying he would return the money to students for the days they missed due to the strike, which was a lie because the company didn’t have any money at all.”
Owner Steven Muller said use of the website will be decided by the executor but that the function to pay for courses will be disabled.
Until this week, Barcelona and Madrid continued to operate as normal, giving classes at least three times a week.
“During the strike classes continued, and we were answering emails because its wasn’t the clients’ fault. As professionals we had to work and by law we had to complete our tasks under the agreement of the strike,” she said. “Business went on as normal even though we weren’t getting paid.”
Jordi Corretje, a lawyer at Advocats i Mes in Barcelona has filed law-suits on behalf of students and staff in Barcelona and says staff will only be able to recover 40% of their salaries paid through the Spanish state’s Guaranteed Salary Fund.
“I’m amazed, disappointed and I feel cheated because now I don’t have work” said the ex-employee, adding “it’s not just about the money but also the psychological and physical pressure that this situation puts on you.”
Affected students meanwhile will have to go through legal proceedings to recover course costs.
“The problem is how to coordinate all these people who have been affected and it’s a lot because there were schools in Andalucia, Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona,” Corretje said.
“We don’t know yet how far the impact will go. Here there are teachers who aren’t being paid, the students who paid the course and the home stay families who also haven’t been paid since January.”
In addition to its four locations, the school also had partnerships with schools in Malaga, Salamanca and Argentina. The Seville location was the only school that was a member of the Federación de Escuelas de Español como Lengua Extranjera.
“Here there are teachers who aren’t being paid, the students who paid the course and the home stay families who also haven’t been paid since January”
Ana Cózar, director of FEDELE said the organisation doesn’t have a tuition protection fund in place to help affected students but that regional organisations are offering possible solutions.
“The truth is that we have no data of students who have been affected but we fear that there is a large number of them who do not know where to turn,” she said.
In an email to students, Bernhard Roters, president of the regional organisation, Asociación Español en Andalucía, said the school had been expelled from the organisation and offered recuperation courses at Español Activo EUSA, Giralda Center, and CLIC International House Sevilla at discounted prices.
“With this aid we hope simply to have helped you be able to keep studying in the marvellous city that is Seville,” he wrote to students.
“Independent of our offer of help you should exercise your right to legally reclaim the services you lost as a result of the disappearance of Babylon Idiomas.”