A group of students from around the world who enrolled in an expensive college graduate program in hopes of obtaining three industry certifications were victims of a misleading course description, Ontario's top court ruled Tuesday.
In upholding a lower court ruling, the Appeal Court agreed with the trial judge that George Brown College negligently misrepresented the benefits of its graduate international business management program.
"It is reasonable for students to rely on statements contained in course calendars, because these calendars are published with the intention that students read them and rely on the information contained therein," the Appeal Court said.
At issue was a statement in the 2007 course calendar that said the program provided students "with the opportunity to complete three industry designations/certifications in addition to the George Brown college graduate certificate."
The students, however, discovered that graduation did not give them the designations they sought in international trade, customs services and international freight forwarding.
Nor were they automatically eligible to write the industry exams — some with hefty fees — necessary for the designations, which also required additional courses in some cases.
Almost 120 students had enrolled in the eight-month program — about two-thirds from countries such as India, China, Turkey, Brazil, Russia and Syria — and discovered just before final exams the college had no ability to confer the coveted designations.
While George Brown later clarified its course description, the foreign students were still out their nearly $11,000 tuition, prompting a class action against the Toronto college. The class action was certified in April 2010.
'Having paid a substantial tuition fee and related travel and living expenses, they could not afford the additional time or money needed to pursue the three accreditations on their own.'—Justice Edward Belobaba, Ontario Superior Court
Lawyers for George Brown tried to argue a "reasonable student" who did some industry research would have known the designations didn't automatically come with graduation.
In siding with the students at trial last fall, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled the course description "could plausibly be interpreted as meaning exactly what it said.
"Having paid a substantial tuition fee and related travel and living expenses, they could not afford the additional time or money needed to pursue the three accreditations on their own," Belobaba found.
Belobaba said the well regarded college had made a "careless" mistake in this instance and needed to be held accountable.
The Appeal Court agreed the college owed the students a "duty of care." It said the students were consumers whose rights were breached under the Consumer Protection Act because the college had engaged in an unfair practice and were entitled to a remedy.
The Appeal Court ruling now clears the way for an assessment of the damages George Brown must pay the students