LINDA GYULAI, MONTREAL GAZETTE
The sign for the downtown campus of the Lester B. Pearson School Board vocational college doesn’t mention college or school.
In fact, the sign outside Suite 810 in an 18-storey office building on Robert-Bourassa Blvd., near the corner of Ste-Catherine St. W., says it’s home to Lester B. Pearson School Board Career Programs.
Yet the office directory downstairs calls it the Lester B. Pearson Vocational College, and says the school also occupies five other offices on three floors.
Indeed, when the West Island school board inaugurated the “downtown campus” in March 2014, it described the site as an innovative international vocational college.
But Lester B. Pearson Vocational College doesn’t exist, according to Quebec business records.
Moreover, it’s not to be confused with LBP Vocational College, which is a business name used by a numbered company that was registered in Quebec in January 2014 by Naveen Kolan. He’s a Toronto-based businessman whose Ontario firm, Edu Edge Inc., signed an agreement with the Lester B. Pearson School Board in 2013 to recruit students in India for the board’s growing international student program.
LBP Vocational College’s business address in Montreal is a suite in a highrise office building on de la Gauchetière St. that is advertised on the web as a virtual office space and that appears to be used by numerous companies as their address.
Cash-strapped Quebec school boards, including Lester B. Pearson, have turned to international student enrolment in recent years as an attractive revenue stream. But as a notice posted recently on the West Island board’s website suggests, private interests are also profiting from the influx of foreign students, who can benefit from a Quebec program offering fast-tracked immigration.
And the array of private businesses and public school board programs that have sprouted up — and in some cases, partnered — to generate revenue from international enrolment are creating a confused picture of who’s in charge and where millions of dollars in tuition fees are going.
A message on the Pearson board website, addressed to “all international vocational students,” advises that “all tuition fees/transfers need to be paid ONLY to ‘Lester B. Pearson School Board’. The name ‘LBP Vocational College’ refers to a privately owned enterprise with no affiliation to the Lester B. Pearson School Board so tuitions paid to this entity ARE NOT payments made to the school board.”
Room 810 of 1255 Robert-Bourassa also serves as the head office of Matrix College of Management Technology and Healthcare Inc., according to Quebec business records. It’s a private company created in Quebec in August 2014 and registered to Kolan.
Pearson board chairperson Suanne Stein Day said on Friday that it’s the school board that pays the rent on the offices it occupies at 1255 Robert-Bourassa. She added that Matrix College of Management Technology and Healthcare is not affiliated with the school board and doesn’t to her knowledge have offices in the school board’s downtown campus.
The staff who teach and do administrative work at the downtown campus are school board employees, she said.
Kolan did not return messages seeking comment.
He also registered a company in Quebec in June that operates under the name SWL Vocational College. That company is headquartered in a downtown Sherbrooke St. W. office building.
Kolan’s Edu Edge partnered with Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board in 2015 to create a computing support vocational training program for international students. But Maxeen Jolin, communications coordinator for the Laval school board, said it never got off the ground. Edu Edge had a contract for a professional sales program at a Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board vocational centre, and that contract ended in August, she added.
Jolin said the board became aware that a company was registered as SWL Vocational College, but “it wasn’t done with our authorization.”
“It’s not something we consented to.”
Quebec’s anti-corruption unit, UPAC, is investigating allegations of irregularities at Lester B. Pearson and at a second board, the English Montreal School Board. Quebec’s education department also appointed an auditor to investigate the two boards.
Stein Day said she can’t answer questions about Edu Edge’s agreement with her board because of the audit and investigation.
When the downtown campus opened, the school board initially took offices on one floor, she said. The board has been restructuring its international department, which involved “severing employment ties,” she said, and is about to vacate the Robert-Bourassa building.
“We’re in the process of moving those students to our Verdun adult and career centre,” Stein Day said. “Over the holidays, everything will be moved to the new centre.”