Enrolment resumes at SLC affiliate, but distraught international students seek real resolution

·5 min read

A massive enrolment issue is being resolved at St. Lawrence College’s (SLC) private college affiliate after nearly a week of protests, but students are far from feeling secure.

Hundreds of international students, primarily from India, paid Alpha College upwards of $15,000 in tuition fees before suddenly seeing their enrolment suspended.

The school, whose campus is in Scarborough, has had a partnership with St. Lawrence College since 2008 to offer international students a study permit and eligibility for a post-grad work permit of up to three years.

While the curriculum along with diplomas are provided by St. Lawrence College, there is little oversight of the courses at Alpha College, and often students simply use the college as a means to come to Canada.

With a sudden change in enrolment status, that was put in jeopardy for hundreds of students.

Harmanpreet Kaur, an Alpha College student who was part of protests last week, said she paid her fees on March 30 and attended 15 days of classes before receiving an email that her enrolment was suspended.

Kaur said students were given no explanation for the sudden suspensions, and when looking for answers from Alpha only saw blame pointed in the direction of the government and eventually St. Lawrence College for the issues.

In a statement from the World Sikh Organization of Canada, President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said the college’s practices look to exploit international students who are often a vulnerable group.

“The situation facing international students at Alpha College is shocking. The College’s poor planning and focus only on profit has resulted in hundreds of international students being charged very high tuition fees only to be told that there is no space for them at the College,” Singh Sidhu said in the statement.

“These students have left their homes to come to Canada to study and are paying tuition fees that are much higher than domestic students. Many of their families have sold their land in order to send their children here to pursue their education. Forcing students to take one or more drop semesters because the College didn’t plan properly on how to accommodate them is hurtful and unreasonable.”

SLC CEO and President Glenn Vollebregt says the college, along with Alpha, have worked over the weekend to resolve the issue and roughly 600 students were confirmed for spring enrolment.

He added that individual hotlines have been setup at both Alpha College and St. Lawrence College while both schools begin to shift focus to planning for a hopefully smoother start to the fall semester.

Vollebregt said it was a “perfect storm” leading to this disastrous situation, with each student facing somewhat unique circumstances and the last two years of COVID restrictions causing a pent up demand of international students looking to come to Canada.

Jaspreet Singh of the International Sikh Student Association said quite simply private colleges – in particular Alpha – overbooked their classes, knowingly collecting more fees than the number of seats available.

He says while students in Canada seemingly have had their concerns dealt with, there are still hundreds in India that have paid and are missing the necessary enrolment letter to come to Canada.

To this point, nobody at St. Lawrence or Alpha have provided a solution for students still in India whose money has already been accepted.

Singh noted that students at other private colleges have experienced similar problems, the sheer amount at Alpha is egregious.

“How come those extra offer letters are in the hundreds?” Singh said.

“Five or ten cases might be okay, but hundreds?”

Harmanpreet Kaur said that while many of her cohorts have had their enrolment restored, they are already experiencing issues with the education portal.

As a whole, students have lost any trust in Alpha College and want something in writing that assures they won’t have to face anything like this again.

“Yes we are enrolled but we want written proof from the college side because we can’t believe them because we have suffered already many problems after just enrolling us,” Kaur said.

“We are so insecure about the future, if college is doing these kinds of things now, how could we believe in the future they wouldn’t?”

Organizations that have gotten involved in support of the students are now asking for the leaders of Ontario’s political parties to commit to holding private colleges to account for their practices.

The Ontario Gurdwaras Committee, Khalsa Aid Canada and the World Sikh Organization of Canada, wrote a letter to the party leaders saying SLC and it’s affiliate Alpha have shown to be perpetuating an exploitative crisis.

“It is clear that St. Lawrence College and its affiliate, Alpha College are treating international students like cash cows and not providing them the education and respect they deserve,” the statement reads, co-signed by leaders of each organization.

“We call on you to publicly commit to reviewing and revising private career college accountability measures and the public private partnership framework to ensure current and future student harms are addressed. International students in Ontario have suffered for long enough. Our organizations and community are looking to you for a firm commitment to action to ensure this situation is immediately addressed.”

In December 2021, the Auditor General of Ontario warned that Ontario College were over-reliant on private career colleges for revenue. In addition, the Auditor General found that St. Lawrence College was the subject of compliance issues, with St. Lawrence College being listed as one of five colleges that had more international students at private career colleges than what they were allowed.

International students make up roughly 40% of tuition fees paid in Canada.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News

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