Canada’s Niagara College is up against a $55m class-action litigation after former international students were left ineligible for work in Canada after graduation.
The source of the issue is the College’s general arts-and-sciences program which targeted overseas students with a Bachelor’s degree from their home country. The students also completed a Canadian studies program before undertaking Niagara’s promoted program.
— Hamilton Spectator (@TheSpec) August 18, 2015
The 500 students enrolled in the program hoped to earn a work experience position in Canada following completion of their studies, and their hopes were rightly justified as the College is listed on Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s “designated learning institutions list” for the work permit program.
The plaintiff alleges that representatives of the school led students to believe that by completing the largely online general arts-and-sciences diploma transfer program, plus one-year of graduate or post-graduate schooling in Canada, would make them eligible for a three-year work permit in the country.
However, the students later discovered that the program did not meet Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s work permit requirements as the online course was classified as a distance learning program.
— alixandria; (@alixxrae) February 22, 2013
Distance learning is a way of learning remotely without the need of frequent, face-to-face contact with a teacher in a classroom. It is a method that allows students to study through cable TV channels or correspondence, and the advent of the internet paired with a universal reliance on technology has led to the rapid expansion of tuition that is delivered online.
In large countries such as Canada, distance learning courses offer domestic students the chance to study at their chosen college without having to move away from home, and in recent years, distance learning has proven to be a convenient and viable option for students seeking post-study opportunities from institutions overseas.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada states that, by definition, distance learning does not require a person to be in Canada throughout the period of their studies, therefore, a study permit can not be issued for this type of course.
— Media News 4m World! (@MediaCapsules) August 17, 2015
The CIC also states that in order to obtain a work permit upon graduation, students must have studied full-time in Canada and must have completed a program lasting at least eight months, and that distance learning courses deem students ineligible for post-graduation permits.
However, international students engaged in Niagara’s general arts-and-sciences program were unaware that they were undertaking a distance learning course because the college reassured them that the digital part of the course did not classify it as distance learning, which the plaintiffs describe as “misleading”.
Anish Goyal and Chintan Zankat have forged the legal battle on behalf of affected classmates who were also enrolled in the four-month program, each one under the impression that the program was designed to help them qualify for ‘coveted’ three-year, post-graduate work permits.
— Academica Top Ten (@AcademicaTopTen) August 19, 2015
Jagrit Sahni, whose study visa expired in May, told The Toronto Star: “We all came with a dream of getting a good education and getting work experience, and we made sure our school was recognised by immigration.
“We checked the college when we applied. It said we would qualify for a three-year work permit under the current immigration rules.”
Darcy Merkur is working on the case with a group of immigration lawyers who stand to represent 100 of the 500 students affected by the work permit rejections. He says: “We’ve alleged that Niagara College came up with a program designed to allow them to qualify for a three-year work permit, which they coveted, but failed to properly design it.
“And, as a result, their graduates are not qualifying for the work permits and are essentially being kicked out of Canada.”
“By pushing the course online, they’ve disqualified their graduates from qualifying.”
Our new Fall Continuing Education Guide is out this week! Registration is Open! http://t.co/VaTUip8whG
— Niagara College (@Niagara_College) July 17, 2015
According to the statement of claim, this is something Niagara College “knew or ought to have known” before it purportedly “promised” the program’s overseas students would qualify for the permit.
The statement also claims that members of the class gave up the chance for a one-year permit in favour of the three-year option.
It cites damages of $50 million for “unfair practices” under the Consumer Protection Act and general negligence, and “punitive aggravated and exemplary” damages of $5 million, plus interest and other costs.
The situation has been agonising for all the students involved, and 26 year old Anish Goyal expects his work permit will be denied like many of his classmates. He was planning to start a career in IT project management so he could send money home to support his parents. Goyal formed a Facebook group for the affected students, concerned that their families had invested a lot in their education.
— Stuffspec.com (@stuffspec) August 7, 2015
He said that students came from India, China, Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, all of whom paid $7,500 for the four-month semester, on top of the one-year academic program taken at a separate Canadian university.
“This is a community college that is recognised by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Ontario education ministry.
“I will lose my career here,” Goyal said, “I’ve invested almost two years of my life in Canada and now I’m being forced to go back home without getting what I was promised.”
With governments concluding they can not subsidise universities as generously as they used to, a technological revolution is challenging the traditional university business model. A significant boom in the provision of affordable, and sometimes even free, online education means the knowledge once reserved exclusively for the elite is now available to everyone with access to the internet.
According to Techcrunch, education degrees earned at online universities now dwarf those earned at traditional institutions.
— World Economic Forum (@wef) August 18, 2015
The digital age has seen a sharp rise in our reliance on technology, and the global system for Higher Education needs to adapt accordingly. USA Today evaluated data from the Department of Education and found that online education giant, the University of Phoenix, awarded more than twice as many education degrees as its closest traditional competitor, Arizona State University.
The Dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Robert Pianta, said: “We shouldn’t be surprised because the whole industry is moving in that direction.
“The thing I would be interested in knowing is the degree to which they are simply pushing these things out in order to generate dollars or whether there’s some real innovation in there.”
With such swift advancements in the global influence of technology in Higher Education, and society as a whole, it is crucial for colleges and universities to adapt in order to meet the demands of their foreign student cohort.
Toronto immigration lawyer, Ravi Jain, who is representing 50 of the affected students in the case against Niagara College, stated that: “[Canadian] Immigration is not keeping pace with the changes in education.
“The students exercised their due diligence to figure out the rules. The College, under its own letterhead (in its letter of enrolment), put in writing that it does not offer a distance learning program.
“These are highly attractive programs, and (foreign) students have to be careful about these online programs.”
— UoPeople (@UoPeople) August 19, 2015
All of the allegations in the group’s statement of claim are yet to be proven in court, but what does the blunder by Niagara College mean for the school’s international reputation, and how will the outcome of the case effect the country’s take on online distance learning?
Image via Shutterstock.