A little over a year ago I enrolled in a program. The goal was to live in Spain, work as an ESL teacher, and obtain what was called a Master’s degree by the program. The courses were through Instituto Franklin which operated out of the historical Universidad de Alcalá facilities.
There were many nice things about living in Madrid and the school to which I was assigned. This is not about those things and this isn’t about naming names. It’s about warning anyone thinking of attending.
The seeds of trouble, it seems, were planted in September 2015, when Fundación, the money middleman for the University, took control of the students’ taxes.
In late April 2016, a meeting was suddenly scheduled. All students were asked to attend. We were informed there had been a problem with the taxes.
As students earning a living stipend for our internship hours which, for many, was a sum below the poverty line for Madrid, we were not supposed to be taxed. At the meeting, Fundación and Instituto Franklin representatives informed us that an agent for Hacienda (Spanish IRS) had interpreted tax law differently for 2015 and was no longer recognizing our student status despite everyone being enrolled in classes and our government issued student visas. This meant everyone would be taxed as nonresident workers.
Our taxes were about to shoot from 0% to 24%.
What follows is a list of odd elements that came to light following the initial meeting. These were discovered through private meetings, emails, and subsequent notifications issued by Instituto Franklin.
- This 24% tax only effected students in private schools or concertados (semi private). Students who had been randomly placed in public schools would be untouched.
- Students working in private schools or concertados were being taxed as nonresident workers regardless of visa status and, more curiously, regardless of residency status. Students who had legal residency in Spain as well as a few students who had Spanish citizenship were also being taxed as nonresident workers.
- The tax would be taken out retroactively. Fundación claimed they had already paid the students’ taxes to Hacienda for 2015 so in order to make the difference the money would be taken out of the last three months of our paychecks and we would also be losing our 400 € deposits.
- Previously, receipts from 2015 listed taxes at 0%. After the meeting, when students looked again at the online documents they saw the number had been changed to 24%. Only students who had downloaded and saved the original 2015 documents could prove the discrepancy now that it was 2016.*
- It was revealed that Instituto Franklin was aware of this issue as early as January 2016. It is possible they knew sooner. The official story was they were looking for solutions before telling us.
- Students at the meeting were naturally upset. Instituto Franklin administrators were very defensive, some berating students for using ‘work vocabulary’, insinuating that using certain terms surrounding our assignments during the meeting could affect our tax status.
- The blame was always put on Hacienda for misunderstanding its own tax law, but no representatives were present. Students were encouraged by Instituto Franklin to schedule appointments with Hacienda individually to figure out a deal. The students were required to bring their tax documents and pay receipts from the school year. These documents had to be retrieved from Fundación who reportedly refused to provide them. Several students claimed they had to contact Spanish police before Fundación would relinquish any papers.
- Hacienda reportedly did not recognize the taxes as having been paid at all and further did not recognize the reference numbers on the documents Fundación provided.
Some students contacted lawyers and others tried to pressure Instituto Franklin into getting the money back. In private meetings with smaller groups of students, the school insinuated Fundación had made an error. The nature of this error was nebulous. The story was they filed everyone together and Hacienda never examined the individual cases and Fundación simply paid it all without question or precedent. This story conflicted with what was reportedly said by Hacienda agents.
Whether it was negligence or malfeasance remained a mystery.
Some students considered walking out of the program (only ~2 ½ months away from graduating) while others considered walking away from their intern schools (entities we had no quarrel with and this would solve nothing). Our only bargaining chip, as some saw it, was to boycott the external exams we were assigned to administer unless we were given a written agreement that our money would not be touched. A petition was signed.
Instituto Franklin scheduled another meeting immediately. Despite repeated pleas, Instituto Franklin refused to provide any written agreement. They did say they were trying to get the money back and reportedly felt 50% to 99% sure they could do it (depending on which meeting you were in). Due to fears of backlash and a lack of unity, only a few ultimately boycotted the exams.
Subsequent meetings informed us that we would be receiving portions of our money back. Skepticism never stopped looming around the return of the 400 € deposit. The administration never appeared optimistic.
The final effort, which was not so much as for leverage but as a genuine warning to incoming students, was a proposal to inform all potential students of what had happened (this message). We were immediately informed that giving a basic report to future students was seen as “a very serious threat against the school“. We maintained that the students had a right to know. Had we known about issues with the school we would have been more diligent in saving and filing all emails and documents or chosen not to attend. In the beginning, most of us had operated on basic trust in Instituto Franklin.
In the end, after all the stress and worry, Instituto Franklin reportedly did get all the effected students their money back—with the caveat that resident students give the school the total of their tax returns, making the gesture rather meaningless to many. All of this was finalized at the end of June 2016. No official word on what really happened has been announced to my knowledge.
The Final Note
Trust in Instituto Franklin is far from restored for many. As a result of student activity (petitioning and notifying future students) some of us have been ostensibly blacklisted. The agreement had always been: finish the program with good marks and get a recommendation for placement for the following year in a public school with the Communidad de Madrid.
In July 2016, some students received this message directly from the Education Ministry for the Communidad de Madrid, “We are sorry but we cannot assign you at any of our school[s] because the Evaluation Committee of the Instituto Franklin has given you a negative report.”
In an email correspondence regarding this message, contacted representatives for Instituto Franklin denied any knowledge about it.
One administrator did share this alleged Evaluation Committee report: “[student’s] request has been evaluated in order to receive a recommendation for a position in the public schools bilingual program. Although initially the request was included in the general list, due to the circumstances that have raised during the last two months of the program, the Committee has decided to withdraw the recommendation. Although the academic results have been outstanding during the program, the student´s attitude during the last two months has proven to be negative and mistrusting with Instituto Franklin- UAH.”
What makes this move so appalling is the school’s failure to notify any students of their apparent withdrawal. They are not obligated to recommend any student, but decency should have them inform students of this so they can look for work elsewhere.
Instead, through private emails, Instituto Franklin administrators led students on, assuring them their placement was imminent and they couldn’t figure out what the delay in placement might be. That they continued this misrepresentation over the course of more than a month and even let students leave the country, knowing this move could jeopardize their legal re-entry into Spain without employment lined up, perhaps shows that a “negative and mistrusting attitude” toward Instituto Franklin is just about all it deserves.
—a former student
Special thanks to all the students who helped compile the information.