Three colleges in Quebec and an affiliated recruitment firm have applied for creditor protection, increasing the uncertainty for hundreds of international students who had already applied for tuition reimbursement.
M College of Montreal, CDE College of Sherbrooke and CCSQ, which have campuses in Longueuil and Sherbrooke, all requested protection in a case before the Quebec Superior Court last Friday. The Montreal-based recruitment firm, Rising Phoenix International, also applied for protection.
They are all owned by the Mastantuono family – including Caroline, Christina, Joseph and Giuseppe Mastantuono – under the umbrella name RPI Group.
The request for creditor protection comes a little more than a year after the province suspended 10 private colleges, including M College and CDE college, for what it described as “dubious” recruitment practices for students in India.
The suspension meant that schools were temporarily prevented from accepting certain applications from foreign students. Quebec’s investigation into the 10 colleges revealed shortcomings around recruitment, trade practices, management and teaching conditions.
Although the suspension was lifted in early 2021, hundreds of students faced long delays in obtaining a student visa that would allow them to come to Canada.
Students from India are struggling to get reimbursement
Students pay between $ 28,000 and $ 30,000 to attend colleges, usually over a two-year period, according to court documents. Students from India represent 95 percent of the 1,177 students at the three colleges.
In December, CBC News reported that dozens of students in India had tried to get theirs tuition refunded for months after their student visa had been delayed.
Several said their parents had been saving up for years so they could study abroad. Without a refund, some students said they are unable to apply for other colleges, meaning their academic progress is effectively frozen. Others had to take out loans or work part-time.
SE | Family saved for years to send this student abroad:
According to the creditor protection application, unpaid tuition fees and reimbursement claims from 633 students against RPI Group are estimated at nearly $ 6.4 million.
The document adds that there are “potential additional claims of approximately $ 5 million from pipeline students awaiting a decision on their student visa application.”
In its application, the RPI Group blamed its financial problems on “a cascade of unfortunate events”, including “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, untimely and improperly funded expansions, changes in the immigration process for international students, as well as lawsuits and PR issues” , which the group faces. “
The RPI Group’s decision to buy CDE and CCSQ dormitories in June 2020 for $ 10.9 million also made it vulnerable after subsequent visa delays prompted students to request a refund, the application said.
‘No refund can be processed at this time’
The creditor protection application states that colleges are committed to ensuring “the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders, including students and other creditors.”
But a letter to students at CDE College from Joseph Mastantuono, the school’s chairman, suggests that it will be difficult for them to get a refund.
According to the letter, which CBC News has obtained, a plan is being developed for students close to graduation to help them complete their program.
Other students will have their academic education temporarily suspended to see if a potential buyer can be found for the high schools. Otherwise, students will have to move to other colleges.
The letter tells students that it is “within your right to withdraw from your college,” but because of its creditor protection filing, “no refund of tuition can be processed at this time.”
The Mastantuono family is involved in another legal case involving international students.
In November 2020, investigators in the province’s anti-corruption unit arrested Caroline Mastantuono and her daughter, Christina, for allegedly committing fraud to facilitate the processing of student permit applications while working on the Lester B. Pearson School Board between 2014 and 2016.
Although the allegations arose before the RPI was created, the negative publicity led to creditors withdrawing or refusing to cooperate with them.
Caroline and Christina Mastantuono deny any wrongdoing and have challenged the charges against them. The case is still before the courts.