Provincial regulator orders Granville College to refund $10K after misleading an international student
Shivani Sharma says she dreamed of coming to Canada for higher education to get a better job, and to bring her husband and four-year old son here one day.
The family lives in Amritsar, a city in India’s northern state Punjab, where Sharma already had a well-paying job in pharmaceuticals.
Sharma wanted to apply to Vancouver Community College (VCC) but says Anil Kumar Sharma, who runs an immigration consultancy firm in India called Aryans Academy, directed her toward Granville College, a private institution in Vancouver.
So, Sharma, 29, says she and her husband used their life savings, and borrowed money from friends and family to pay $13,500 in tuition fees.
However, soon after arriving in Canada and starting the program, Sharma realized the program wasn’t what she signed up for, and decided to withdraw and ask for a refund.
The college refused, leaving her education and immigration status up in the air.
After six months of uncertainty and no money to enrol in a new program, B.C.’s Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB), which regulates private colleges, has found Granville College “misled” Sharma and ordered it to refund more than $10,000 to the international student.
Balraj Kahlon, the co-founder of One Voice Canada, a non profit organization helping vulnerable international students, says this case is just one example of a common phenomenon: Canadian private colleges and their Indian agents misleading students.
“I know of multiple colleges that engage in the exact same behaviour. They would deny providing a refund and when the student insists, [the college] would start raising issues of their immigration status,” said Kahlon.
The PTIB has also launched an investigation into the college after a previous CBC News article on accusations of shortchanging international students through misleading tactics.
Not what she signed up for
Sharma’s letter of acceptance to Granville College, which is an official letter of admission used to acquire a study permit from Canadian immigration authorities in May 2022, states “Business Administration Diploma” as her field of study.
But on her first day of school in September 2022, Sharma says she found out her program was changed to Hospitality Management. Sharma says she chose not to question the change at the time.
The official document also states that she would be getting 25 hours of instruction per week.
But Sharma says the daily classes, scheduled for five hours each, only lasted around 15 minutes.
Like another student CBC has reported on previously, Sharma began to question the legitimacy of the program.
“When we had some questions, our instructor said to just ‘Google it,'” said Sharma.
Furthermore, Sharma says plagiarism was also rampant at Granville College.
“On the Canvas app we could see the answers of other students. We just copy, paste, submit and we were getting 80 per cent, 90 per cent,” said Sharma.
Screenshots reviewed by CBC News show that more than half a dozen students’ answers to one assignment matched word for word.
Granville College told CBC News in a statement that plagiarism is not tolerated on any platform, a rule all students have to agree to upon enrolment.
Post-graduate work permit confusion
Sharma says she also learned her studies at Granville weren’t going to count toward getting a three-year postgraduate work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which she would need to apply for permanent residency.
The student says Granville College told her in December 2022 that after finishing one year at the institution, she would be transferred to VCC to complete her two-year diploma — and both years would count toward the study time needed for the permit.
But when she enquired, Sharma says a VCC representative told her that would not be the case, that she would need to study a full two years at VCC to receive a three-year work permit.
When asked by CBC, Granville said it “has an agreement with VCC that allows students to transfer into the VCC program. Through this, they will be able to get a post-graduate work permit.”
Granville did not clarify the specifics around the duration of study or work permit.
VCC told CBC News that while they do have an agreement that enables Granville College students to transfer their study credits over, time spent at Granville is not counted toward work permits.
“Granville College does not offer post-graduate work permit eligible programs. Therefore, only the time spent at VCC … will be counted towards [work permit] length if a student transfers,” VCC clarified.
VCC said it has been getting questions from “multiple” Granville College students about the agreement and their transfer to VCC.
In situations “where students’ questions indicate incorrect information has been shared with them”, VCC said it has brought this matter to Granville College’s attention.
“That made me think why should I waste my time in Granville,” said Sharma, who decided to withdraw in January 2023, after less than five months at the college.
College denies refund
A week later, the college declined her refund citing the enrolment contract.
This is when Kahlon took over the case and emailed the college listing Sharma’s issues along with the lack of an enrolment contract, and demanded that the college refund Sharma’s tuition — a total of $13,500.
Harit Gaba, Granville’s international relations director, replied to Kahlon explaining that the online delivery was due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and that Sharma is not eligible for a refund.
Gaba also told Kahlon that the program of study was changed with Sharma’s consent and provided him with a student enrollment contract signed by Sharma and her father on Aug. 19, 2022.
But Sharma says she had never seen this document before the college shared it with Kahlon.
And her father, whose signature appears to be on the document, died in 2015.
When Kahlon raised this issue with the college, Gaba emailed him asking for “some time to look into the matter.”
But Kahlon didn’t hear back from Gaba after that.
This is when Kahlon took the case to PTIB on March 22, 2023.
No questions before the visa
Sharma believes the document was forged by Kumar Sharma, the agent in India who had connected her with Granville College in the first place.
The agent had been communicating with the college and immigration officials using a new email address in Sharma’s name. He did not give her access to the email until September 2022, a week before she was set to fly to Canada.
Sharma had approved that condition in a declaration she signed before commencing the process; it says Sharma will “not ask for any kind of document or paper, tracking ID, email or screenshot before visa approval.”
When CBC asked the college about the document with the late father’s signature, Chamara Perera, Granville’s CEO, said that the agent confirmed to the college that it was Sharma’s signature, and that it arrived via Sharma’s email address — which she used in correspondence with the college between January 2023 and March 2023.
Sharma has been unable to access the email address since March 2023 as the passwords, backup email and phone numbers seem to have been changed.
Perera also noted that “this is an agent that [the college] has dealt with over a long period of time” and that the college has “a working relationship with this agent.”
Kumar Sharma declined an interview with CBC News but sent a written statement alleging that Sharma’s allegations are “self-created,” and that “her only purpose is to defame [Kumar Sharma’s] name.”
Granville College says it has “followed the PTIB dispute resolution policy in this matter that has now been completely resolved.”
Investigation by the PTIB
After six months of back and forth between the PTIB, Kahlon, and the college, the regulator sided with Sharma.
Tony Loughran, a trustee with the PTIB, wrote in his decision that Sharma’s expectation to have some portion of the program in-class was “reasonable” and that he does not accept Granville’s “explanation that the program was delivered entirely online because of COVID-19. When [Sharma] enrolled in the program, COVID-19 restrictions had already been lifted.”
The decision reads that Granville College “misled [Sharma] in respect of the delivery of the program.”
Loughran ordered the college to repay Sharma a total of $10,360 out of Sharma’s original $13,500 in tuition.
Loughran did not make a finding into whether Sharma and her father’s signatures on the enrollment contract were forged or not.
“Having found in favour of [Sharma], I do not have to make a finding in relation to the authenticity of the signature on the enrollment contract,” the decision reads.
Selina Robinson, B.C.’s minister of post-secondary education, declined an interview request, but in a statement confirmed that “based on previous reporting and complaints, staff at the PTIB launched an inspection into Granville College that is currently underway.”
While the ministry declined to comment on the scope of the investigation, the statement noted that “once the regulator has findings against an institution, their ability … to be able to continue enrolling international students is subject to review … including losing authorization to enroll international students on study permits.”
Kahlon says that while he is pleased with the outcome that the college was ordered to refund, the larger issue of immigration agents who are being paid by Canadian institutions and are misleading the uninformed international students with the promise of immigration, remains.
“There’s no solving this by trying to deal with symptoms. It’s just like playing a game of whack-a-mole.”
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