Ashesh Khanal has a cheque for $4,000 that he can't cash but he has not just lost his money, he has also lost almost all hope of ever studying abroad.
The Chitwan native wired the money to the Canadian College of Business & Computers in Toronto in March 2005 which confirmed his admission in August. But the Canadian Embassy in Delhi rejected his application for a study visa and when after some months CCBC sent him a partial refund cheque dated 16 December his bank here told him there was no money in the account. Khanal has since made numerous trips to the bank-each time to find the account dried up.
"They already sent five or six cheques (to various students) they have all bounced," he says with a worried look. Six other students sent $4,000 to CCBC after answering an ad placed in a local paper by Mission Mark Consultancy in Kamalpokhari. MMC owner Prasad Rai says he was approached to go into partnership with CCBC by an unsolicited email.
The college sent MMC a certificate of partnership, provided a mailing address in Toronto and even had a website. It couldn't have looked more legitimate, say Rai and Khanal. But Canadian newspapers reported that the college fled its offices months ago without paying its rent. And on 19 January, the Province of Ontario's Ministry of Training College and Universities suspended CCBC's registration after numerous complaints about missing refunds and poor quality instruction.
"All of the students are complaining to me," says Rai sitting behind his desk in the small MMC office where prospective overseas students and workers sit on couches waiting to discuss their plans with him. "They want 75 percent of their deposits returned now."
It appears that CCBC did operate as a college after it was founded by Shelvan Kannuthurai in 1995 but it's difficult to know if it was a legitimate business that hit hard times or was set up to swindle overseas students eager for Canadian credentials and a chance to get established in North America. Almost all its students were from South Asia, Africa or Iran, according to the Toronto Star newspaper.
In an April 2006 email, Kannuthurai wrote to one of the cheated Nepali students: 'We require confirmation until the end of April 2006. In the event you are unable to accept our request we recommend that you contact the ministry directly to request a refund under the security bond that CCBC deposited. Please note that this process will take at least 2-3 years to complete.'
That information, at least, seems correct. In May, Khanal (pictured) received a letter signed by the ministry that said CCBC had appealed the suspension of its registration. That means the ministry will first have to hear the appeal and then decide if the college's bond should be forfeited. If it decides yes, It must delay another two years so that all those with claims have a chance to apply. Finally, to get a portion or all of their deposits back, students would have to obtain a judgment from an Ontario small claims court.
Last month, the Star reported that CCBC owes 60 students at least $227,000. Former Canadian Ambassador in Delhi, Lucie Edwards, told us in a recent interview she was worried that so many students who want to study in Canada pay agents to complete their paperwork when they could do it themselves. But in the CCBC case, the cheat was a Canadian college. "What bothers me most is that an advanced country like Canada allows schools like this to operate. They weren't held to any standards. It's shameful," said the brother of one of the cheated students.
The Canadian Embassy in Delhi offers these tips for students planning to study in Canada. Some could be followed for other countries as well:
. Verify if the university or college is a member of one of these two recognised bodies: Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), www.aucc.ca or Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC), www.accc.ca
. Use the Government of Canada website: www.livelearnandsucceed.gc.ca
. Apply to the college/university directly whenever possible
. Speak to Canadian colleges/universities that recruit directly at education fairs or at your school. Using an agent is not required.
. Use the services of the Canadian Education Centre based in Delhi
. Use the services of recognised Canadian recruiting agents, such as the University of Windsor representative in Delhi.