Montreal

Potential buyer found for private Quebec colleges that left international students stranded

Hundreds of international students left in limbo after three private colleges in Quebec suddenly closed finally have a glimmer of hope they could go back to school.

Hundreds of students had their studies disrupted, colleges owe millions in tuition refunds

Last January, hundreds of international students were unable to complete their studies after three private colleges closed and applied for creditor protection. On Sunday, a few dozen held a demonstration in downtown Montreal to draw attention to their situation. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Hundreds of international students left in limbo after three private colleges in Quebec suddenly closed finally have a glimmer of hope they could go back to school.

Last month, the owners of M College of Canada, CDE College and CCSQ college filed for creditor protection.

Richter Inc., an accounting firm that is overseeing the restructuring process, now says there is an agreement in principle with a buyer. If approved, the schools could reopen.

According to Richter Inc., more than 2,000 students are affected by the proceedings. Most are from India.

In mid-February, following an application from several Indian students, a Quebec Superior Court justice appointed the law firm of McCarthy Tétrault LLP to represent all of the students in the creditor protection process.

"We are basically a buffer" between the students and the accountants at Richter Inc., said Alain Tardif, a partner at the firm who specializes in bankruptcy, insolvency and restructuring matters. "They don't have the time to answer those dozens and dozens of emails that come every day."

The law firm is there to answer questions about the process and next steps, as well as provide general immigration advice.

M College in Montreal's LaSalle borough, along with two other colleges and a student recruiting firm, filed for creditor protection in January, leaving students in the lurch. (Simon Martel/CBC)

Some of the students still in Canada needed to extend their student visas and were uncertain if they had the right to work if their studies were interrupted, which was magnifying their stress.

According to the application for creditor protection, unpaid tuition fees and refund requests are estimated around $11 million — and could add up to more than that.

"How far north is all going to depend on how quickly we can get the students back to school," said Tardif.

The immediate priority for the students who were approaching graduation is to be able to complete their studies, he said.

Those who had started their courses or were about to start their program want to be able to return to school and continue without having to pay more than they already have.

"The third priority is to get the maximum we can get to refund as quickly as possible, the fees that were paid by the students who won't be coming to Canada," he said.

Students still struggling

Some of the students held a demonstration Sunday in downtown Montreal to raise awareness about their situation.

A few dozen lined both sides of Ste-Catherine West near Cabot Square. Many were holding signs with the words "Justice for Students" and "We want to study" written on them. 

Harleen Kaur, who is originally from India and is a member of the Montreal Youth Student Organization, helped organize the demonstration and has been advocating on behalf of students.

Kaur said the involvement of the law firm represents a positive step. But she said many students are still struggling.

"They were mentally disturbed. They were physically disturbed, too, because they could not see any hope," she said.

Alain Tardif is a partner in the Bankruptcy and Restructuring Group at McCarthy Tétrault LLP. The law firm was appointed by the court to represent students’ interests during the insolvency process for several private colleges. (submitted by McCarthy Tétrault LLP)

On Monday, Richter Inc., will ask the court for an extension to finalize the purchase, which would include the transfer of the applicable permits for the colleges from Quebec's Ministry of Higher Education.

"The government is keenly aware of the dire situation of the students, so everybody is working truly in good faith to making this happen as quickly as possible," said Tardif.

The colleges are all owned by the Mastantuono family — including Caroline, Christina, Joseph and Giuseppe Mastantuono — under the umbrella name RPI Group.

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