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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver private high school faces criticism after losing certificate

A private high school in Vancouver that caters to international customers is facing complaints from students and parents who say they haven't been compensated adequately after the school lost its certificate from the provincial government.

Vancouver International College (VIC) offered English-as-a-second language courses as well as classes using the B.C. school curriculum. But the B.C. Education Ministry says the school's certificate wasn't renewed because it repeatedly failed to meet the province's bonding requirements. Independent schools must be bonded, meaning they must post financial guarantees based on their enrolment.

That has left students, some of whom only recently arrived in Canada, scrambling to find alternatives while facing the prospect of losing thousands of dollars in tuition. The school is offering partial refunds while keeping 30 per cent.

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Vera Chen, a 17-year-old student from China who travelled by herself to Vancouver last October, said she paid $30,000 in tuition fees that included English and college-preparation courses. She claims the school told her the 11/2-year program would guarantee her admission to a prestigious university in Canada. With living expenses and other fees, Ms. Chen said she paid the school more than $50,000.

"I am very angry," she said. "My parents [back in China] are anxious. Of course I want the money back, since it's not a small amount."

The school in New Westminster responded to requests for comment with an e-mailed statement attributed to the Vancouver International College's board.

The statement described the licensing issue as a minor delay and said there is "no problem regarding finance and operation." The school plans to renew its licence. The board said it had reached agreements with 90 per cent of students who requested transfers to other schools and refunds.

Two students and the parents of three other students told The Globe and Mail they haven't signed such an agreement.

The board sent a letter to students and parents in December after its certificate was revoked. The notice said the school would consider requests for refunds from students who wanted to transfer to another high school recognized by the B.C. Education Ministry.

The letter said that process would begin once the students were accepted by other schools and the students or their guardian signed a refund agreement.

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The refund agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe, says the refund would not include tuition for courses that have been taken or even scheduled. The agreement also says the school would keep 30 per cent of the tuition fees as an "administration fee."

"This refund agreement isn't reasonable," said Fion Liu, whose son has attended VIC since last fall.

"It's the school's problem. Our tuitions shouldn't be deducted so savagely. We came all the way here from China for education, and [the school] cannot fool us like this just to make money."

The refund agreement also says students can be transferred to another private school, Ontario International College, which is operated by the same ownership group as Vancouver International College. Ontario International College is certified by that province's Education Ministry.

B.C.'s Education Ministry said that while schools are responsible for establishing their own refund policies, it has asked the school to lower its administration fee.

"The ministry has repeatedly asked the owner to review its administrative fee and reduce it to 10-15% as this would be more in line with our expectations," the ministry said in a statement.

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The ministry said it is aware the owner was interested in reopening the school.

"The ministry has provided the owner with information on what he would need to do in order to be considered for recertification."

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