Private Quebec college lobbied for early tuition payment before filing for creditor protection

Sehaj Sharma says he began to suspect his private college in Longueuil, Que., was in trouble when it suddenly caused him to pay thousands of dollars in tuition a month ahead of schedule.

In late November, Sharma and her classmates had days to pay the money or risk being suspended or expelled.

He rushed to find nearly $7,000.

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

The college, known in French as Quebec College of Accounting and Secretarial (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 firm, filed for creditor protection. In the court filing, the colleges blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for some of their financial troubles.

Payment and winter vacation increased

Students who have attended the CCSQ are now wondering about the real reason for the great rush to pay their fees in advance.

As a first step, the finance department of the CCSQ told the students on November 21 that they had until the beginning of January to pay their fees.

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

The college said it could not offer extensions or installment payments.

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

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

The money request coincided with an email extending winter vacation.

Students were told the break would begin the following 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 is worried about his future.

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

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

International students pay between $28,000 and $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, refunds in millions

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

The colleges and the recruiting company, as RPI Group, are all owned by the Mastantuono family.

Joseph Mastantuono is the president of the three colleges.

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

Students faced long delays in getting their study permits approved by the federal government. Unable to come to Canada, many students have decided to withdraw from colleges and seek reimbursement of their tuition fees.

Joseph Mastantuono is president of the CCSQ, Collège M in Montreal and Collège CDE in Sherbrooke. His family owns the RPI group. (Joseph Mastantuono/LinkedIn)

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

The court filing last week created even more uncertainty and stress.

According to the application for creditor protection, the unpaid tuition and reimbursement claims of 633 students against the RPI group are estimated at nearly $6.4 million. The document says there could be an additional $5 million in potential claims from hundreds of other students who have not yet obtained their student visas.

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

“What am I supposed to do now?” said Dev Sharma, a classmate of Sehaj at CCSQ. Students have 150 days to register at another school, but Sharma says he has 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,” 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 to study, not just because it was in Canada, but because it was recognized as a provincially approved DLI, or Designated Learning Institution.

A number of Indian students who paid thousands of dollars to attend M College in LaSalle, Quebec say they still have not been reimbursed, even though they were unable to attend due to problems obtaining a study permit. (Simon Martel/Radio-Canada)

Lack of recourse

Both Dev and Sehaj complained to the Ministry of Higher Education, but still haven’t heard anything back.

In an email, ministry spokesman Bryan St-Louis said college officials, along with their lawyers, met with ministry officials Jan. 5 to tell them they intended to file a filing. a claim for creditor protection.

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

Questions to CCSQ President Joseph Mastantuono were forwarded to the Richter Group, which declined to comment, saying the matter was now before the courts.

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

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