HESA: That Fifth Estate Episode [international students]

Good commentary on the abuse of international students by private vocational colleges in the GTA that are in public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements with non-GTA public colleges and the need for greater regulation:

Many of you will have seen the Fifth Estate episode that aired two weeks ago, about international students in Canadian institutions and how many of them think – sometimes not without reason – they have been sold a bill of goods with respect to the quality of the education they receive.  If you haven’t already watched it, it’s here and you may want to give it a gander before continuing with this blog.

Finished?  Good.  Then I’ll begin.

Broadly speaking, the story is one of supply meeting demand.  In Punjab (this story is all about Punjabi students, there might as well not be any other types in Canada so far as this story is concerned), there are a lot of poor families who want their sons and daughters to go abroad to make a new life.  In Canada, there are several post-secondary institutions who a) can provide a pathway to permanent residency if a student graduates from a 2-year program and b) are willing to expand spots almost to infinity to accommodate students wanting to take advantage of this path.   The usual televisual suspects give some facetime to presenter Mark Kelly are students, often despondent from parental pressure and homesickness, immigration consultants eager to play whistleblower, and teachers recounting students falling asleep in class, exhausted from trying to combine work and study.  But there’s also some not-so -usual suspects: where this piece breaks some new ground is showing how the whole recruitment operation works in Punjab. Specifically, the report uses through some hidden camera work finding agents giving out flagrantly incorrect and, in some cases, illegal advice.  (It’s not entirely clear whether these agents are contracted to specific Canadian institutions or not).

So, there is some important reporting in this show.  But there’s also some weird stuff, too.  For instance, near the beginning of the show, a health counsellor in Brampton claims that there are 50-60 suicides a year among Pubjabi students in Brampton alone.  You’d think this would be the actual center of the story, right?  Mass death in a Toronto suburb?  But no, the statement just hangs there, unverified, un-followed up (presumably the local coroner would be able to verify).  Bizarre.

What I found most baffling about the show was the producer’sdecision to insinuate that this was a true depiction of the international student market across Canada, when pretty clearly it is just a depiction of what is happening in Ontario colleges, and more specifically, in the private vocational colleges in the GTA that are in public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements with non-GTA public colleges.  That’s not to say this stuff is absent elsewhere (it’s not), but if you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll be aware of what an outlier Ontario colleges are.  But for some reason The Fifth Estate chose to just glide over this distinction.

In fact, even though the report focused on a handful of egregious cases in the GTA, it seemed incapable of consistent reporting on the details: yes, Alpha and Hanson Colleges are private career colleges, but the programs the international students are attending belong nominally to a pair of public colleges (St. Lawrence and Cambrian Colleges, respectively).  The show seems to be under the impression that it was the private institutions which made the deals to sign up 10x the number of students that the institution could physically hold.  But that’s not true: it is the public colleges that are responsible for this.  And by missing that distinction, it completely let the leadership of these public institutions off the hook. 

Another thing the show misses completely: all these schools are acting in defiance of Ministry Policy with respect to these PPP campuses.  Read the policy and you’ll quickly realize that the number of specific protocols being breached are more numerous than the ones being observed.  But the most egregious violation is that international enrolment at partnership colleges is not supposed to amount to more than twice the number of international students on the “home” campus.  Yet not even one of these public colleges with PPPs in the GTA are obeying this limit.  All of them are massively overenrolled in relation to the policy.  And yet consecutive Minister of Colleges and Universities have simply failed to enforce the policy.  Why?  Your guess is as good as mine, but with hundreds of millions of dollars involved, you’d think it’s something that both opposition parties and media would take more seriously.  Or rather, I understand why Ontario opposition parties are not taking it seriously because they’re currently in shambles, but how could The Fifth Estate miss it?  Indeed, why choose to make the federal immigration minister the focus of its winding-up hard-question interview when it is clear, and I mean CRYSTAL FREAKING PEPSI CLEAR, that the key failure is one of provincial policy?

The answer, I suspect, is that The Fifth Estate is one of those CBC shows with a “national mandate”.  And so, while this story was fundamentally about certain PPP arrangements in Greater Toronto which are not especially representative of the rest of the country, they had to make out like it was a national story. And heck, it isn’t even representative of actual Toronto colleges.  If I were Humber College, I’d be  furious about Mark Kelly using the Lakeshore campus as a backdrop for the intro to a show talking about a set of atrocious events, PRECISELY NONE OF WHICH were associated with Humber.  I mean, really.

(Also, for some reason, the show does a drive-by smearing of Waterloo-based recruitment aggregator ApplyBoard, mainly because it does not differentiate between dodgy agents using ApplyBoard as a platform to submit their students’ documents and agents actually working for ApplyBoard.  But – full disclosure – HESA is working with ApplyBoard on a project at the moment, so take that observation with whatever-sized grain of salt you wish).

To be clear: whatever its failings, the show gets two big things right.  First, there are some really nasty things happening in the PPP colleges around Toronto.  Some of us have been warning about the reputational danger these institutions pose for quite awhile, and it’s long past time both the federal and provincial governments got their act together and regulated international education and international recruitment as if quality mattered (that they do not do so already is a complete disgrace).  Second, there is an ethical element to recruitment that a lot of institutions have missed: what might be acceptable in terms of recruitment tactics when dealing with rich international students whose family wealth makes high international fees easily affordable (as is the case with a lot of East Asian students who have come to Canada) and who are likely to return to their home countries later, are much less acceptable when applied with poor international students (mainly from Punjab) whose families are mortgaging everything in order for a shot at getting their kids Canadian citizenship.  These are important points that need to be front and center in the policy debate, and good on them for doing so.

But at the same time: boy howdy, the show missed a lot and unjustly left the impression that the bad apples were representative of the whole.  Maybe that’s just how media works: but if so, that’s all the more reason the federal and provincial governments should take regulation of the international student sector more seriously than they currently do.

Source: That Fifth Estate Episode

Quebec closes immigration pathway offered by unsubsidized private colleges

Overdue. Federal government should consider same given similar abuse occurring elsewhere in Canada:

Quebec is planning to close a pathway to immigration available to international students who attend unsubsidized private colleges.

The new rules, announced Tuesday by the provincial government in collaboration with Ottawa, will go into effect for those enrolling after September 2023. 

Only those who have completed a study program in a public or subsidized private college will be able to get a work permit. 

The possibility of a work permit was a major selling point for unsubsidized colleges, which charge as much as $25,000 annually in tuition. 

In Quebec, the number of students from India in particular has skyrocketed, from 2,686 in 2017-2018 to 14,712 two years later. Most of them attend private, non-subsidized colleges.


Reporting by CBC News has shed light on poor management at some of the colleges. In the case of three colleges that suddenly shut down last year, many students have still not had their tuition reimbursed and others were left in legal limbo.

A 2021 report by Quebec’s Ministry of Higher Education revealed shortcomings around recruitment, commercial practices, governance and teaching conditions at 10 private colleges.

Changes meant to address ‘integrity issues’

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet and Ottawa Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a joint statement the change aimed to “address gaps brought to light” by the investigation regarding “certain unsubsidized private colleges.”

According to the statement, it will “ensure that Quebec is not used as a gateway for settling permanently in Canada. In the other provinces, international students who have followed an unsubsidized program of study generally do not have access to this work permit.”

In an interview, Boulet said there were issues with the “integrity” of the system.

“We will harmonize with what is done everywhere else in Canada,” he said. 

“Unsubsidized private schools used this post-graduation work permit to recruit [and] attract people who benefited from our school system, then went elsewhere in Canada,” he said.

He added that “international students are a tremendous assets socially, culturally and economically for Quebec society as a whole.”

‘We did nothing wrong,’ college head says

Private colleges were quick to denounce the decision. The National Association of Career Colleges issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the decision, arguing such colleges play an important role in the province and the country as a whole.

“Our industry has, for many months, tried to engage the Quebec government to understand their questions or concerns pertaining to the post-graduate work permit and find workable solutions together,” said Michael Sangster, the CEO of the association.

Michael McAllister, director general of Herzing College in Montreal, said his institution, which was founded in 1968, is among those being punished for the problems at a select number of colleges. 

“We did nothing wrong and we’re getting penalized,” he said. McAllister would have liked to work with the provincial government to come up with a plan that helps meet the province’s labour shortage and recruit more international students who speak French.

Harleen Kaur, who is originally from India, has been advocating on behalf of students and said she feels international students are also being blamed for the poorly run colleges. 

She said the province could have instead made sure colleges are better regulated instead.

“I think the government needs to communicate with the colleges and look deeper into this,” she said.

The change comes more than a year after the release of the province’s report on the private colleges and only days before the National Assembly session wraps up for the summer ahead of the Oct. 3 election.  

Martin Maltais, an expert in higher education policy and a professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski, said the move was a simpler, quicker way to address the problems with unsubsidized private colleges, in lieu of more complicated legislative reforms.

“That’s probably the fastest way to act and and have results,” he said. 

Source: Quebec closes immigration pathway offered by unsubsidized private colleges

And in Le Devoir, with more emphasis on the hardship of students:

Plus de 500 étudiants originaires de l’Inde, qui ont payé jusqu’à 15 000 $ pour faire des études au Québec, affirment avoir été floués à cause de la « négligence » des gouvernements du Québec et du Canada. Ayant épuisé leurs recours juridiques et politiques, leurs avocats tentent désormais d’alerter l’opinion publique sur cette situation qu’ils estiment révoltante.

Ces 502 jeunes Indiens regrettent amèrement d’avoir fait confiance aux publicités décrivant le Canada comme un paradis pour les étudiants étrangers. Ils ont payé à l’avance leur première année de scolarisation au Québec, comme l’exige Ottawa — même si cela contrevient à la Loi québécoise sur l’enseignement privé —, mais le gouvernement fédéral a refusé de leur accorder un permis d’études.

Pour comble d’insulte, il leur est impossible d’obtenir un remboursement : trois collèges privés où ils s’étaient inscrits n’ont plus aucune liquidité et se sont placés sous la protection de la Loi sur les arrangements avec les créanciers des compagnies.

« Immigration Canada a détruit mon avenir. Je me demande pourquoi j’ai choisi le Canada pour faire mes études », dit en soupirant Nisha Jindal, une étudiante de 28 ans qui s’était inscrite en éducation à la petite enfance au Collège M, ayant pignon sur rue à Montréal.

Elle a accordé une entrevue au Devoir depuis la ville de Badhni Kalan, au Pendjab, dans le nord de l’Inde. Cette dynamique jeune femme affirme que son rêve d’étudier et de s’établir au Québec a viré au cauchemar dans des circonstances obscures.

En novembre 2020, Nisha Jindal a commencé ses études en ligne après avoir payé à l’avance la somme de 14 852 $. Il s’agit d’une facture considérable pour une famille indienne : son frère a réhypothéqué l’appartement familial pour permettre à la jeune femme de venir étudier à Montréal.

Dix mois plus tard, en août 2021, un gros nuage a assombri l’avenir de Mme Jindal : Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada a refusé de lui accorder le visa qui devait lui permettre de venir faire à Montréal son stage d’éducatrice à la petite enfance.

Raison invoquée : son parcours scolaire en Inde ne lui permettrait pas de mener des études collégiales au Québec. En vertu d’un système mis en place par le Canada en raison de la pandémie, la jeune femme avait pourtant eu l’autorisation de commencer ses études à distance — ce qu’elle a fait avec assiduité, tous les jours de 15 h à 2 h, à cause du décalage horaire entre l’Inde et Montréal. Elle avait aussi obtenu son certificat d’acceptation du Québec.

« J’ai accepté de payer à l’avance ma scolarité parce que je faisais confiance aux gouvernements du Québec et du Canada. Je le regrette tellement ! Tout le monde nous a abandonnés », laisse tomber Nisha Jindal. Elle reproche à Québec de l’avoir mise en lien avec un établissement qui n’a pas livré les services pour lesquels elle avait payé.

Elle et 501 autres étudiants ne peuvent ni terminer leurs études ni se faire rembourser les milliers de dollars payés à l’avance. L’entreprise Rising Phoenix International, qui possède le Collège M, le Collège de l’Estrie et le Collège de comptabilité et de secrétariat du Québec, à Longueuil et à Sherbrooke, s’est placée sous la protection de la Loi sur les arrangements avec les créanciers des compagnies.

Les dirigeants de Rising Phoenix font face à des accusations de fraude et d’abus de confiance en lien avec le recrutement d’étudiants étrangers.

Une entreprise de Toronto, Cestar, a offert de racheter les collèges de Rising Phoenix, non sans controverse. Selon nos sources, une décision du ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur du Québec est attendue d’ici la fin du mois de juin.

Alain N. Tardif, avocat chez McCarthy Tétrault, estime que cette histoire entache la réputation du Canada dans le monde. « Le gouvernement oblige les étudiants étrangers à payer une année de scolarité à l’avance et, quand tout s’écroule, il ne répond pas », dit-il.

La firme d’avocats a eu le mandat de représenter les étudiants indiens touchés par la restructuration de Rising Phoenix International en vertu de la Loi sur les arrangements avec les créanciers. Les avocats ont tenté en vain de forcer Ottawa et Québec à prolonger les visas ou les certificats d’acceptation pour des centaines d’étudiants indiens inscrits dans les collèges de Rising Phoenix. La Cour supérieure du Québec a refusé cette demande.

À défaut d’accorder ou de prolonger les permis d’études, les gouvernements devraient rembourser les étudiants indiens pour des cours qu’ils n’ont pas obtenus, fait valoir Alain N. Tardif. « Pour les étudiants indiens et leurs familles, c’est une tragédie de perdre 15 000 $. Ils vivent beaucoup de détresse », dit-il.

La facture totale réclamée par les 502 étudiants s’élève à 7,5 millions de dollars. Une somme considérable pour les étudiants de l’Inde — où le salaire annuel moyen est estimé à 2434 $ —, mais plutôt anecdotique pour le gouvernement d’un pays riche comme le Canada, fait valoir l’avocat.

Plus de permis de travail postdiplôme

Interrogé sur le sort de ces 500 étudiants laissés à eux-mêmes, Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada n’a pas répondu aux questions du Devoir. Sans commenter l’octroi des permis d’études, qui est une compétence fédérale, le ministre de l’Immigration, Jean Boulet, a toutefois donné plus de détails sur une nouvelle mesure négociée avec son homologue fédéral, Sean Fraser, qui coupera l’herbe sous le pied aux 49 collèges privés non subventionnés du Québec.

En date du 1er septembre 2023, le permis de travail postdiplôme ne sera désormais octroyé qu’aux étudiants issus des collèges subventionnés. Jusqu’ici, les étudiants de collèges privés non subventionnés avaient droit à ce permis de travail après avoir effectué de très courtes formations d’environ 900 heures, comme des attestations d’études collégiales (AEC) ou des diplômes d’études professionnelles (DEP), pouvant coûter jusqu’à 25 000 $.

Des médias, dont Le Devoir, avaient d’ailleurs révélé les nombreux problèmes liés à la piètre qualité des formations dans ces collèges de même que leurs stratagèmes douteux concernant le recrutement, ce qu’avait confirmé le ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur au terme d’une enquête qui avait mis au ban dix collèges, en majorité anglophones.

En entrevue, le ministre Boulet n’a pas nié l’impact de sa décision sur ces collèges. Mais il estime que « ça s’imposait ». « On ne pouvait pas tolérer ce type de stratagème permettant à une personne d’arriver au Québec et, après une formation de courte durée, d’avoir un accès automatique à un permis de travail », a soutenu le ministre, en soulignant que bon nombre de ces étudiants s’en allaient en Ontario ou ailleurs au Canada. Selon lui, il ne s’agit pas de punir les collèges anglophones. « C’est le stratagème qui est visé. » Il a par ailleurs rappelé que le Québec est la seule province canadienne qui permet l’accès au permis de travail postdiplôme au terme d’un programme non subventionné.

Source: «Tout le monde nous a abandonnés»