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Quebec private college requested prepayment of tuition fees before seeking creditor protection

Sehaj Sharma says he began to suspect his private college in Longueuil, Que., Was in trouble when he suddenly pushed him into paying thousands of dollars in tuition a month ahead of schedule.

At the end of November, Sharma and her classmates had days to pay the money or risk being suspended or expelled.

He scrambled to find almost $ 7,000.

“It’s not that easy to pay all of these fees in three or four days,” said Sharma, a 19-year-old Indian who was in the college’s doctor’s office specialty program.

The college, known in French as Quebec College of Accounting and Secretarial Services (CCSQ), offers professional training in programs such as accounting and secretarial work. Most of its students come from India.

Last Friday, the college, along with two other private colleges and a student recruiting company, filed for creditor protection. In the court case, colleges blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for some of their financial problems.

Payment and winter vacations increased

Students who have attended the CCSQ are now questioning the real reason for the great rush to prepay their tuition fees.

First, the CCSQ’s finance department told students on November 21 that they had until early January to pay their tuition fees.

But an email sent Nov. 29, shared with CBC Montreal, told students they had until Dec. 3 to pay close to $ 7,000.

The college said it couldn’t offer an extension or installment payment.

“Failure to pay by the due date will result in the suspension of a student’s privileges (such as access to student services), up to and including suspension or expulsion from a study program.” , indicates the e-mail.

As the college is now closed, students cannot continue their programs. If they don’t study, Immigration Canada has told them that they are not allowed to work. (Louis-Marie Philidor / CBC)

The request for the money coincided with an email extending the winter break.

Students were told the break would begin the next day – November 30 – due to concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Originally, the CCSQ was to be closed from December 12 to January 10. Management assured the students that their programs would not be extended.

But when the students arrived at the college on January 10, the doors were locked.

Sharma couldn’t believe it and now says he’s worried about his future.

An only child, Sharma was on the phone with her parents in Patiala, a large town in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

“We paid everything on time and in order,” Sharma said wearily in a telephone interview.

International students pay $ 28,000 to $ 30,000 to attend colleges over a two-year period – three to four times what a Canadian student pays.

“We are always treated like this,” Sharma said.

Unpaid tuition fees, reimbursements in the millions

In addition to the CCSQ, Collège M in Montreal, Collège CDE in Sherbrooke and the recruiting firm Rising Phoenix International have filed a request for protection against creditors. Last week.

The colleges and the recruiting firm, under the generic name of RPI Group, all belong to the Mastantuono family.

Joseph Mastantuono is the president of the three colleges.

The claim for creditor protection comes just over a year after the province began investigating several private colleges, including M College and CDE College, for ‘questionable’ recruitment practices of students in India .

Students faced long delays in obtaining their federally approved study permits. Unable to come to Canada, many students decided to withdraw from colleges and seek reimbursement of their tuition fees.

Quebec private college requested prepayment of tuition fees before seeking creditor protection
Joseph Mastantuono is president of the CCSQ, of the College M in Montreal and of the CDE College in Sherbrooke. His family owns RPI Group. (Joseph Mastantuono / LinkedIn)

In December, CBC News reported that dozens of students in India were still waiting for their tuition fees to be reimbursed.

Last week’s court case created even more uncertainty and stress.

According to the creditor protection claim, the unpaid tuition fees and reimbursement claims of 633 students against the RPI group are estimated to be nearly $ 6.4 million. The document says there could be an additional $ 5 million in potential claims from hundreds of other students who have yet to obtain their student visas.

Now that the schools are closed, students cannot continue their programs. If they don’t study, Immigration Canada told them, they are not allowed to work.

“What am I supposed to do now?” Said Dev Sharma, a classmate of Sehaj’s at CCSQ. Students have 150 days to enroll at another school, but Sharma says he’s already paid the college $ 21,000.

“It’s very difficult because it was my parents’ life savings and they worked for so many years to give me a better education, and now all of a sudden it’s all gone,” he said. Sharma said.

The 19-year-old doubts he will ever get his money back.

“I literally have almost no hope.”

He and his family believed the college was a safe place for him to study, not only because he was in Canada, but because he was recognized as a DLI, or designated educational institution, approved by the province.

Quebec private college requested prepayment of tuition fees before seeking creditor protection
A number of Indian students who paid thousands of dollars to attend M College in LaSalle, Que, say they still have not been reimbursed even though they were unable to attend due problems obtaining study permits. (Simon Martel / CBC)

Lack of recourse

Dev and Sehaj have both complained to the Ministry of Higher Education, but haven’t heard anything yet.

In an email, ministry spokesman Bryan St-Louis said college officials, along with their lawyers, met with ministry officials on Jan.5 to tell them they intended to ask. protection against creditors.

He said the ministry is monitoring the situation closely, but any reimbursement will depend on the restructuring process, which is overseen by accounting firm Richter Advisory Group Inc.

Questions to CCSQ president Joseph Mastantuono were passed on to the Richter group, which declined to comment, saying the case is now before the courts.

“It’s like a legal network that they’ve formed to protect themselves,” Dev Sharma said.