$5,000 tuition paid, diploma granted same day, tribunal told

RICHMOND — A woman has told a tribunal that she received a diploma apparently qualifying her to perform acupressure and body massage therapy on the same day she paid her $5,000 tuition, raising concerns about how private colleges operate in Richmond.

Richmond resident Zhen Qin complained to the province’s Civil Resolutions Tribunal about Vancouver International College of Health and Wellness. Her concern was not that the college failed to provide instruction, but that she thought the diploma would enable her clients to make insurance claims for her services. That did not turn out to be the case.

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Qin told the tribunal that in 2017, she saw an online advertisement from the college saying that by joining the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada and performing 1,000 hours of acupressure and body massage, graduates could write insurance receipts for clients under extended health insurance plans.

When Qin realized a year later that that was not the case, she requested a refund, but the school’s principal refused. She then filed an appeal with the tribunal, and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

Both appeals were unsuccessful, but the case brought the school to the attention of the ministry.

Following a Richmond News inquiry about the case, the ministry said via email that its Private Training Institutions Branch is reviewing the tribunal’s decision and will take appropriate action, adding the case is a reminder that prospective students need to clarify if an institution is certified, and ensure programs they take will give them “proper and certified” credentials.

Jas Johal, MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, said he couldn’t comment on the specific case, but getting a diploma the same day you pay your tuition is “quite appalling.”

Johal said he doesn’t believe Qin’s case is an isolated incident, noting he has heard from a number of international students who have spent a significant amount of money to study in Canada, but felt they didn’t get the education they were promised.

Johal is calling on the federal government to more closely monitor private schools.

“Clearly, the system is broken somewhere. We need to do a better job to fix it,” he said. “If the federal government wants to bring in more students, then we must have the resources here. Private colleges should be monitored to make sure they don’t take advantage of students, or the system. And maybe the immigration department should look into what’s happening here.”

In the tribunal decision, adjudicator Micah Carmody said Qin shouldn’t have relied on the college’s statements to make a decision.

“It’s incumbent upon the student, before entering an institution, to make a due inquiry about the merits, reputation, and value of its certificates,” Carmody’s decision says. “In context, I find that it was not reasonable for the applicant to rely on [school principal] Mr. Wang’s statements before inquiring with the relevant authorities.”

Wang told the Richmond News he made a mistake in awarding Qin a diploma before she had taken any classes, but was trying to help her with her mortgage. He added that she was still welcome to attend classes. Qin has never attended any of the college’s classes.

Wang claimed he doesn’t usually issue diplomas upon receipt of tuition and that Qin’s case was an exception.

The Better Business Bureau also stressed the importance of investigating credentials before enrolling in any private training program, including checking for a valid registration certificate from the province’s Private Training Institutions Branch, or an accreditation certificate if the institute claims to be accredited.

“It’s a consumer’s responsibility to make sure that the course or program is right for you,” said BBB spokeswoman Karla Davis.

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