Hillsong College received the following request from Business Insider:
Responses from Hillsong College
Does Hillsong College require it’s students to sign a Non-Disclosure agreement? If so, Why?
Our students are asked to sign a standard Non-Disclosure agreement when they enroll each semester. This is a prerequisite document that covers three primary areas: private information (required by Australia’s Privacy Act), course material (intellectual property) and electronic security protocols (IT systems).
A unique aspect of Hillsong is that it is registered in Australia as a “Registered Training Organization,” and as such, is both registered to provide vocational training and subject to monitoring by ASQA (Australian Skills Quality Authority), a government body. ASQA also audits Hillsong College’s procedures and training requirements – including the practicum element – usually fulfilled through Hillsong Church Australia or Hillsong CityCare.
We welcome the involvement of ASQA because the ‘practicum’ element of our program adds invaluable experience in ministry and leadership. Through this vocational experience, students in Hillsong College do have extensive access to private information that would not be customary at other colleges. Two examples would be, some students have access to the registration list for our conferences and our church directory.
In Australia we are considered an “Australian Privacy Principles (APP) Entity” in accordance with our Privacy Laws which means we follow the Australian Privacy Principles. APP 11 requires an APP entity to take active measures to ensure the security of personal information it holds. Our NDA is part of our internal commitment to facilitate the protection of personal information.
One former student says the NDA orders her, essentially, “not to play or reproduce in any form any digital file, intellectual property, physical property or conversation to any family member or colleague, even in the event said individuals are related in any way to, or in a relationship with Hillsong without the expressed written permission of the General Manager of Hillsong.” Is this true?
This clause is intended to protect the integrity of the course material, as well as to meet the privacy standards Hillsong is required to meet as a Vocational Education Training facility. Additionally, it is an expression of our expectation that students do not share test or course material inappropriately in an effort to cheat. By signing our NDA, our students sign a one-page agreement that fosters safety and trust among students and faculty.
Former students say these NDAs are evidence that Hillsong is trying to silence them.
Our NDA is a clear way for us to communicate the expectation that we meet privacy regulations in Australia and create a safe environment for our staff and students.
Hillsong embraces the opportunity to have students experience every part of our ministry as part of their unique education. As part of that model, our students often have access to private information and creative elements that are essential to our work. We want to ensure a safe and secure environment for our students and staff, and our NDA helps accomplish this. While it may be uncommon for a typical undergraduate program to seek NDAs from their students, it is also uncommon for typical undergraduate students to have access to these vocational opportunities. We have higher expectations for our students because they have unique ministry and leadership opportunities in our learning environment.
Students say they felt threatened their immigration status / visa would be revoked if they did not sign the NDA.
Potential students understand that the vocational elements of our ministry and leadership programs require elevated commitment to confidentiality. Much like if a student enrolled in a business practicum might be required to sign an NDA, our students may encounter personal information as part of their practicum. Students are welcome to seek advice from any source before signing any enrollment document. And we welcome feedback if any of the language used causes misunderstandings. Our intention is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff.
One student says she was ordered to clean toilets for 20 hours as part of her assignment in something called ‘Refresh.”
In addition to not having this student’s name or the circumstances surrounding her claim, our policy also prevents us from providing personal details to protect the privacy of our students. We can tell you that the situation described does not reflect the typical experience of a Hillsong College student.
Hillsong College is fully accredited and routinely audited by ASQA and it’s important to remember that our courses are vocational. This means that as part of their academic studies, our students are also provided an opportunity to gain practical experience in ministry and leadership. For example, a student may lead worship during one of our services and also be assigned to refresh the auditorium after a large event. We tackle this work as a team—students, staff and volunteers. While some students may question the idea that these types of vocational tasks are worthwhile, we strongly encourage our students to remember that even the most celebrated events require a team to prepare before and refresh afterwards.
There is systemic abuse at Hillsong College, as it relates to forced volunteer work.
Many colleges and schools encourage or even require community service in order to invest in their students’ development. As a Registered Training Organisation in Australia, practical work and experience is an essential part of the Hillsong College learning experience and an intentional expression of the vocational nature of our program.
Students have raised concerns about excessive hours they are asked to work as volunteer work, as part of their program at the college.
Our greatest desire is that the unique practicum experiences at Hillsong College will be beneficial to the student. If we learn of an imbalance between traditional course work and vocational experience, we do our best to understand the issue, and if necessary, refine the program. In fact, we have been continually refining our program since our founding. We hold the education of our students and the trust they place in our program in the highest regard. It is never our intention for our students to feel anything other than valued and welcome.
Some of the former students in this story talk about the work they had to perform in ‘Refresh.’ What is ‘refresh’? And are there limits or controls on the amount of time someone serves in ‘refresh’?
When Ms. Krueger was a student, “Refresh” was the name of our volunteer and student practicum team that keep our building clean during a week-long church conference. A student was allocated to either an early or late time slot and their total involvement was limited to no more than 20 hours during a week.
Now, Refresh teams of students and many other church volunteers serve during conferences and weekend services. Student supervisors are instructed to ensure that all participants have ample time for meal breaks and that students can rest as needed. On site, a designated safety team continually monitors the activities of all volunteers and students to ensure their safety.
One of the former students in our story, Yolando Krueger, claims she had to scrub toilets for 20 hours during her time in ‘refresh.’ What is Hillsong’s response to that?
Like all students and volunteers on the Refresh team, when Ms. Krueger was a student in 2012, she would have helped maintain the building during special events and conferences. Our guidelines would have prohibited any student or volunteer from performing a single task for 20 consecutive hours as part of this program.
The Refresh team was one of many diverse student teams serving during special events. These practicums give students exposure to the wide range of activities involved in contemporary church life while also helping them develop teamwork and leadership skills essential to any form of ministry.
We are continually devoting ever-increasing attention to student life balance and increased staff supervision and support for all aspects of students practicum involvement, including the Refresh team.
Yolandi Krueger said she was called to a meeting by Duane Raitt in 2012 and told, essentially, ‘Look, we’ve had it with you. You couldn’t conform to our ideas and we need to let you go and you need to leave within 48 hours.” What does Hillsong say about this meeting and what Krueger alleges?
Without disclosing details that would violate our privacy obligations, we can confirm that according to our records, Ms. Krueger met with two staff members on July 25, 2012 who advised her that she would not be included in enrollment for a second semester due to her concerning behavior. Hillsong College had received a significant number of complaints from her teachers and other students, including roommates.
Ms. Krueger’s behavior resulted in her being evicted from her student residence on four separate occasions, and these were cited as reasons for her not returning foranother semester. Each incident was fully investigated and addressed with her. Her assertion that she was denied enrollment because she didn’t conform to Hillsong College’s beliefs or that we were dismissive of her as a person are untrue.
In 2017, a former student raised concerns about volunteer labor internally and has sent official complaints to government authorities, such as the ASQA. Does Hillsong have anything to say about that?
All students and graduates have the freedom to escalate complaints to ASQA, as per our Complaints and Appeals policy.
We can confirm that a former student raised concerns about volunteer labor and also sent complaints to ASQA. It is important to us to listen to and consider any concerns a student may have, and we welcome opportunities to make shifts in our program when necessary to further enhance a student’s experience.
Each semester, we ask students for feedback in both group settings and individual forms to help us in our efforts to continually improve.
When this student filed the complaint in 2017, ASQA determined that the subject was outside the scope of the regulations they are charged with administering and did not take any further action. The matter has not been raised with us by ASQA in the years since. We remain fully accredited by the ASQA and are regularly audited
For over 30 years Hillsong College has gained an international reputation forexcellence in Christian leadership and ministry. Almost 20,000 students have come through our doors, and it’s exciting and humbling for us to see these people serving their communities across the world.
But we are very concerned when a former student shares a personal experience of frustration and disappointment.
We welcome the opportunity to hear these different perspectives so we can make any changes that will benefit our current students and provide support and care to past students.
Another former student, Laura Hamilton, says that during ‘intensives,’ she was told “What we’re going to do over the next three weeks, were going to tear down everything you know about church, everything you know about the Bible and everything, you know about God — we’re going tear it down, and then we’re going to rebuild it again.” Would Hillsong like to explain this?
One of the primary goals of Hillsong College is to equip students to minister and lead in contemporary culture. Hillsong Church is known for innovation and that element often sets it apart from more traditional churches that many of our students grew up attending with their families.
Many of our students enroll in Hillsong College specifically to experience and learn from an innovative faith community. It is fair to say that in certain subjects the material covered at Hillsong College will cause students to re-evaluate the way they have thought about church and ministry in the past. Each student is encouraged to deeply reflect on challenging material and to reach their own conclusions. It is this time of reflection and intellectual exploration that often is the most valuable aspect of our students’ experience.
What is ‘Intensives’?
“Intensive” is a common term among those who work in post-secondary education, but we realize it may be unfamiliar to many outside the field. Intensives are condensed courses focused on one subject that takes place over a few weeks rather than in weekly lectures spanning months. Many colleges in Australia as well as the United States routinely offer intensives as an option for their
students. The number of instruction hours is the same as when the course is offered in a weekly lecture style format. The immersion in a subject is advantageous to learning, especially in a program with a vocational underpinning.
Hamilton said as part of her time in college she had to vacuum the auditoriums (which may seat thousands) at college. every week, which took hours. Is this standard practice at Hillsong college or part of the education?
When Ms. Hamilton was a student in 2009, Hillsong College involved all students in helping to run and clean college facilities to help keep student fees as low as possible. We no longer rely solely on students for the routine maintenance of Hillsong College’s facilities. Without speaking with Ms. Hamilton, it’s impossible to guess why it would have taken her hours each week to vacuum. That certainly wasn’t intentional or typical.
Students say they are expected to do forced volunteer work. Response to that?
Volunteering is a core value for Hillsong College, and we recommend it for all of our students. It is an expression of ministry and leadership that we hope our students will continue long after they have graduated from Hillsong College.
Students are typically involved in volunteering either through enrolling in a Practicum or through their involvement with the larger community of Hillsong. Much like social work or teaching practicums at other colleges, our practicum is connected to a specific subject, learning outcome, and assessment activities. The goal of the practicum, which is clearly communicated in the course information provided to prospective students, is intended to help students achieve the vocational learning outcomes of their programs. All students are aware of this course requirement when enrolling.
Outside of course requirements, our students are also members of Hillsong Church. Many of our students volunteer as part of their faith experience within our church community. It isn’t surprising that students who are studying ministry and leadership are often enthusiastic volunteers in their faith community.
We often have the opportunity to facilitate tailored volunteer opportunities for our students, based on their interests and our familiarity with the operations of Hillsong Church. This is made clear to potential students, who often see it as an advantage of attending Hillsong College.
Hamilton says she had to attend up to 13 services a week, and was asked to donate money at each. Response?
Ms. Hamilton is most likely referring to attending services across multiple departments and ministries in the course of a week. For example, as part of the vocational element of their studies, students may attend women’s services, youth services, college chapel services and a weekend service.
A voluntary offering is a standard practice for Christian church services, and the same is true at services for Hillsong congregants. Students may have been present at multiple services where offerings were taken, but these invitations were directed at the church congregants in attendance, not the students present.
Since we are aware that many students regularly attend services, we make sure that there isn’t any pressure to participate in the offering. Additionally, we provide our students practical guidance on sound money management, including charitable giving, so that they will be empowered to make wise budgeting and expenditure decisions as future church leaders.
Hamilton says she got chronic bronchitis while at college and she believes it was from the smoke that was pumped in (from smoke machines) during the services. Response?
In production events of all kinds, including services at many modern churches, fog is regularly used as a production element to enhance the color of stage lighting. At Hillsong Church, we often use this element during the music portion of a church service or during a conference.
Ms. Hamilton’s assertion that “smoke” at a Hillsong service gave her chronic bronchitis is unfounded. Our records do not indicate that she made any complaints, raised any concerns or asked for any accommodations due to production elements during her time at Hillsong College. Her file does indicate that she was absent from some of her placements due to illness during her time as a student. However, none of the details in her file indicate that these absences are related to her allegation of chronic bronchitis due to fog machines used during a portion of a Hillsong service.