An Edmonton man says a small B.C. college which caters to students from Africa wasted six months of his time and owes him $4,500.
Derek Sabum says in March 2014 he was willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars to bring his three siblings from Cameroon to get a Canadian education.
Sabum says he chose Fraser Valley Community College (FVCC) because it was recommended by a fellow Cameroonian and he understood it would help with their visa applications.
But Sabum said FVCC bungled their registrations and when he complained its owner accused him of making threats, told him to go elsewhere and kept $4,500 of the $6,797 he had paid in application fees and tuition installments.
“I think they ripped us off,” Sabum said. “This is real strange that something like this can happen in Canada. This should stop. This is not the image of Canada.”
The college says its refund policies are clearly spelled out on its website.
College fees too expensive, brother says
FVCC’s non-refundable $1,000 application fee for Cameroonians is the highest allowed under B.C. law, and higher than the fee charged by similar institutions.
Vancouver’s Greystone College and Hamilton’s Columbia College both charge international students application fees of $150.
Sabum said that when he questioned the fee, he was told part of it covered student visa fees and assistance preparing the visa application.
The owner of FVCC, Sunanda Kikla, says the $1,000 is purely the price of application and says any help with visas is provided for free.
“For anybody to imply that the $1,000 has something to do with the visa services is absolutely not fair,” Kikla said.
She said students from other African countries may pay application fees as low as $250.
Kikla blamed Sabum for the problems and delays.
Allegations and counter-claims
In March, Sabum paid application fees of $3,000 — $1,000 for each of his siblings.
Three months later, in an instant message exchange, the college requested tuition fees of $5,000 per student “so we can line up the visa application”.
Sabum says he decided he could only afford to proceed with just one application, for his brother Kevin. The college agreed to to let him pay an installment of $3,500 towards Kevin’s tuition.
But in July he says became concerned.
In an instant message he wrote “why is your representative in Bamenda (Cameroon) asking for visa fee and collateral?”, adding “I don’t really trust people in Cameroon.”
The college responded the money was to pay for the visa application and then instructed her representative to deal directly with Sabum.
Instant-messaging records provided by both Sabum and Kikla show that communication from the college began to break down after that.
Transcripts show that during August, Sabum asked repeatedly about the progress of the visa application, about getting a receipt for the $3,500, and expressed his frustration with the lack of communication from the college.
The college’s first response, according the the transcript, was on September 4, asking why Sabum was complaining to the college’s representative in Cameroon and whether he had accused the college of running a scam.
Sabum reiterated his concerns and said if by Sept.15 he didn’t have the receipt and proof the visa application had been submitted, he wanted his money back.
The college responded: “Are you trying to threaten Please send a refund request for tuition fees paid as we will not accept your brother’s admission in our college.”
“Your intimidating messages are not acceptable. You can seek another college for his admission.”
Kikla also accuses Sabum of abusive behaviour on the phone.
Sabum denies that and accuses Kikla of collecting money, then failing to deliver.
“All she was doing was just taking the money and then she wouldn’t do anything,” he said.
Kikla denied Sabum was kept in the dark for five weeks, saying she was in constant telephone contact with him.
Kikla told CBC the delay was caused by Sabum not being able to provide her with proof he had the financial means to support Kevin during his period of study and refusing to provide Kevin’s official documents.
Sabum showed Go Public Kevin’s bank statement with a balance equivalent to $12,880 Cdn, along with his academic records and a criminal record check showing no offences, plus Sabum’s own pay stubs and bank statements — all of which he says were supplied to FVCC in a timely manner.
College sanctioned by BC government
FVCC operates out of offices on the second floor of a strip mall in Surrey, B.C. and has approximately 35 students.
In July 2014 it was suspended by the B.C. government’s regulator of private colleges.
In its letter of suspension to FVCC, the Private Career Training Institutions Agency cited poor admissions policies and procedures and poorly kept student records.
FVCC was also sanctioned for making false, deceptive or misleading statements by advertising “full counselling service for international students requiring study permits.”
The suspension was lifted in November after FVCC undertook to change its record-keeping and advertising practices.
College defends withholding money
Sabum paid $4,797 to FVCC towards Kevin’s education, plus $2,000 in application fees for his two other siblings.
In October FVCC refunded $2,297, retaining $2,500 — Kevin’s $1,000 application fee, along with a $1,300 refund charge and a $200 fee levied when Kevin’s visa was not ready in time for the summer semester.
Kikla says the withheld fees are spelled out on the college’s website and were explained clearly to Sabum.
Had Citizenship and Immigration Canada denied Kevin’s visa application, the college would have legally been allowed to retain only $400.
Kikla confirmed the visa application was never submitted. Sabum said he had been relying on the college to submit the application.
Kikla denies Sabum is owed $4,500, saying the $2,000 application fees for the other two students can still be used — less further change fees of $200 each.
Sabum said he wants the entire $4,500 back so he can start looking for another school.
But he said he’s having a hard time convincing his wife to allow him to spend any more money for Kevin’s education.
“I really have to convince her because she’s thinking the money is going to go again.”