Sydney University yesterday warned its staff away from a commercial grant writing course after attendees had mutinied on day one. I was one of the 100 participants (some travelling from NZ and interstate) who yesterday attended a course on a Guide to Successful Grant Writing run by The Grant Institute, a “service of the Institute for Communication Improvement” based in Los Angeles. Although it was expensive ($997 US) we were promised three full days of instruction from grant writing experts, so it seemed like a reasonable deal.

On arrival there were no signs directing people to the two small seminar rooms at the Sydney College of the Arts where the course was held, no name badges and not even enough seats for participants who were jammed into one seminar room. The location had been changed two weeks prior to the course because, The Grant Institute claimed, the original venue at UTS could not accommodate all applicants. An unconfirmed alternate explanation yesterday was that UTS had cancelled the booking when they were not able to obtain any confirmation of payment from The Grant Institute.

While the facilities at the replacement venue were certainly substandard, this may have been tolerable had the course content and presenter remotely resembled what was promised. The content was extremely basic and the presenter was a website designer, with very limited grant experience, who had been asked to run the course only on Friday 20 June! He couldn’t believe we had paid $1,000 each for this course (the first two days’ content had been excruciatingly covered in under 6 hours).

It was my first experience of an academic mutiny, and by 10.15am people had begun to leave. Many more left once the poorly photocopied course notes arrived at 11am, and by 2.30pm it was all over. Our presenter said he would stay on for the rest of the three days to provide individual help with grant applications. Having since checked out the complaints against this company, I suspect he will never be paid for his time.

Post-workshop investigation of The Grant Institute by another attendee revealed they had received an F rating from the Better Business Bureau which reflects not just poor quality services, but fraudulent practices.

Further examples of complaints about this organization are available here.