Under-fire Bandylan chief tries to ease concerns, but government agency says students are entitled to full refund

Michael Laycock and Ron Enns
Staff Writers
Whistler Question (Whistler, B.C.)
April 1996

Two Swiss visitors and a local language school fear they’ve lost thousands of dollars to another school that hasn’t delivered.

But the latter school’s owner says the students received their lessons through an arrangement he made with the former school and therefore have no cause for concern.

The students, Michael Röthlisberger and Beat Bruderer, paid Whistler Language Adventures (WLA) about $6,000 each for accommodation and a 12-week English language program set to begin at the end of January.

But WLA, which is owned by Squamish-based computer-training and retail firm Bandylan and Associates, shut its Marketplace office doors several days before the pair arrived in Canada Jan. 27.

The company arrived at an agreement with another language school, the Whistler Language Institute (WLI), to arrange accommodation and take over the lessons. Bandylan agreed to pay the pair’s tuition in instalments in exchange for WLI taking over the lessons.

But a WLI official says Bandylan hasn’t come through on its promised payments, and Röthlisberger and Bruderer say the company has avoided their requests to recover their money.

“It’s unbelievable,” Röthlisberger said. “We worked for this money. We saved to learn a little bit of English.”

Bandylan owner Tim Agnew says the students have not been left short but simply caught in a procedural shuffle between his company and WLI. He said the students have received their lessons through the contract his company made with WLI.

“The students have not been put out here,” he said. “They got what they came for.”

Agnew said that when he made the decision to close the WLA school after it ran into financial hard times, he offered to refund the students’ money directly to them. But he said the students still wanted to take courses, so his company signed an agreement to pay WLI $8,900 to provide them with language courses and accommodation.

The only issue remaining between the two companies is to resolve who should receive the $1,100 difference between the contracted amount and the $10,000 WLA received from the boys, he said. Agnew claims WLI verbally agreed to allow WLA to keep the difference as a ten-per-cent commission for a referral, which he called “an industry standard.”

He accused WLI of breaching ethical standards by sharing with the students information about the two companies’ financial arrangements.

“We feel the students were led astray,” he said.

Agnew said his company’s financial hard times have made it difficult to make payments, but he plans to pay the first instalment to WLI this Friday. And he says it was a mistake not to pay back the students directly.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Our intention was to do what was right for the students.”

But WLI director Shelley Ledingham has a different interpretation of events.

Documents provided by the students show that the two paid Bandylan about $12,000 in total for their language classes and accommodation, and Ledingham said her company is trying to recover for them the almost $3,000 difference between that amount and the amount Bandylan agreed to pay in the contract.

She said that because the two students were travelling onward and could no longer pursue a refund on their own, they signed a release authorizing WLI to recover the money they spent.

So far, Bandylan has paid none of the money, Ledingham said, adding that her attempts over the past three months to contact its owners have resulted in unreturned phone calls, a bounced cheque and other avoidance tactics.

“We haven’t seen any of the money owed to us,” she said.

The missing payment has caused strain on the school, which has had to pay rent, teachers’ salaries and photocopying fees in the meantime.

“That’s a lot of money for a small school. There’s been some sleepless nights, let me tell you.”

The cash crunch led WLI to ask Röthlisberger and Bruderer to pay an additional $1,800 each to help pay their homestay families as required each month, Ledingham said.

In addition, Ledingham blasted Agnew’s claim that the two companies had agreed to a commission for WLA.

“A commission for what?” she asked. “They rendered no services. The whole concept of a commission was never discussed with us.”

Ledingham said she was disappointed by what she saw as a lack of good faith on the part of Bandylan.

“They (Bandylan) wanted us to help them out. We did, and then they didn’t give us back the money the students had given them.”

The Private Post-Secondary Education Commission (PPSEC), a provincial-government body that regulates all academic and career-related programs provided to adults, has investigated the case and directed Agnew to refund both students in full, according to Shawn Whitney, an examining officer with the commission.

In a letter dated April 23, PPSEC executive director Patrick Floyd directed a payment of $3,000 to be issued by May 3 and the balance of $8,821.36 to be issued by May 17.

According to Witney, Agnew has been advised that the students signed releases with WLI to allow WLI to act on their behalf. The cheques are to be made payable to WLI so that the company can deduct the amount it is owed and forward the balance to the students.

“We have determined that the students are to get a refund and that the legal entity that is registered with us, which is Bandylan Business Learning Centre, is the entity that has to ensure the refunds are made,” Floyd said in an interview last week.

Bandylan, as legally required in providing adult education, is registered with the PPSEC, Floyd said. The company is required to inform the commission of all its programs, but this did not happen with respect to Bandylan’s language course, he added.

“There was a problem here in that we were not aware of this program. The essential thing is they are responsible as far as we are concerned. And therefore, they have to arrange for the refunds.”

If Bandylan does not comply in paying the refunds, Floyd said that he can revoke the company’s registration with the commission. The matter could also be taken to court if Bandylan does not pay the refunds, he added.

“I’m hopeful that Bandylan wants to stay in operation as a post-secondary institution,” Floyd said. “If they do, they have to comply with the act and all the directors and myself, the executive director.”

The PPSEC, which began registering institutions in 1992, was formed after a problems developed with a number of private schools in the 1980s. The most high-profile case involved Alpha College in Vancouver. Overseas students arrived in Vancouver to take part in courses at the college, but when they arrived the college was gone, Floyd explained.

Meanwhile, students Röthlisberger and Bruderer left Whistler in late April to travel Canada for several weeks before returning to Switzerland.

Both said they’re hopeful they’ll get some of their money back, but they expect it will take a long time.

The two said they hadn’t expected to run into so many problems in Whistler.

“We had expected to relax, but it’s been stressful due to all the money problems,” Bruderer said. “I’m a little bit angry.”

But Röthlisberger said the experience had not ruined their trip.

“We still had a good time.”

[*Note: Please see follow-up story, “Provincial agency suspends registration of local language/computer-training firm”]