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HomeBusinessQuest University says it was caught off-guard when landlord put campus for sale

Quest University says it was caught off-guard when landlord put campus for sale

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Bob Mackin

After Quest University’s president told a reporter that its landlord was aware of its troubles, the Squamish university says it was caught by surprise when Primacorp Ventures Inc. put the campus and surrounding lands for sale.

Quest University Canada in Squamish, B.C. (Quest)

NAI Commercial published a flyer for the 55-acre property on Friday morning, less than a day after Quest announced it would close indefinitely at the end of April for financial reasons.

“The chair of the Quest University board of governors wishes to definitively state that the board’s decision to suspend regular academic operations after completion of the spring term in April 2023 was in no way related to any real estate offerings or transactions that its landlord may be involved in,” read a statement from the university on Feb. 25. 

“Upon contacting the agent, we learned that the posting went live sometime after our announcement on Feb. 23. In that discussion we also learned that the university lands have been on offer through NAI Commercial since some point in late 2022.”

Quest president Art Coren had told the Squamish Chief on Feb. 24 morning that Primacorp was “aware of where we’re at, and we’re counting on them to help us through an orderly and dignified windup.”

Quest University president Art Coren (Quest)

The asking price is only available to serious bidders who sign a non-disclosure agreement. The land was assessed last year at $15.08 million and buildings $54.17 million. The Quest campus and sportsplex occupy 23 acres. The remaining land could be redeveloped for market and non-market housing and commercial uses.

The university is adamant that it is suspending academic operations, but not ceasing to exist. Neither is it for sale, despite the headline on the NAI Commercial flyer. “Quest is still a university whether it resides in the Garibaldi Highlands, down by Oceanfront, or smack in the middle of Brackendale. We are much more than a piece of land.”

Quest sought court protection from creditors in January 2020 after its biggest lender, the Vanchorverve Foundation, demanded repayment of $23.4 million. Vanchorverve is one of dozens of charities registered by Vancouver lawyer Blake Bromley. 

In December 2020, Primacorp paid $43 million for the land and university buildings to rescue Quest. The deal included an agreement for Primacorp to provide Quest student recruitment, marketing and fundraising services. Primacorp vice-president of marketing Melissa Davis said by email that Primacorp has completed its $20 million agreement with Quest, but she did not disclose the date that it ended.

Primacorp, under chair Peter Chung, bills itself as Canada’s largest provider of private post-secondary education with 15,000 annual enrolments and has subsidiaries in seniors’ housing, commercial real estate and self storage in Canada and the U.S. Requests to interview Chung have not been fulfilled.

Peter Chung (Primacorp)

The board that oversees operations of the private liberal arts and science university announced Feb. 23 that it plans to restructure finances and operations, but did not provide an estimated timeline. Quest said it had been seeking additional funding to continue beyond April, but “the board concluded that it had no alternative but to make the responsible decision it has at this time.” The board pledged to refund tuition owing and help students transfer elsewhere. 

“The board’s first priority is to protect our current and prospective students,” said the statement. “It is not prepared to continue offering our innovative programming if the university cannot confidently deliver the full 2023/24 academic year.”

Coren, who has not responded to interview requests, joined Quest as president in June 2022 after selection by a committee involving members of the Quest board, faculty, students and alumni. In 2012, he was hired to run the private University Canada West (UCW) when Chung’s company, then known as Eminata, was owner. 

He told the Professionals in International Education newsletter in 2017 that he joined UCW “basically as a rescue mission. They had gone through a lot of problems in the press in the previous ownership and we came in to do a turnaround.”

In April 2013, Coren and Chung were part of the Eminata delegation to Guangdong province in China for an agreement to establish an international Kindergarten to Grade 12 program at Taishan City Education Bureau. Coren’s Quest bio states that he holds a visiting professorship at Guangdong University of Foreign students. 

Quest opened in 2007 and graduated 1,000 students as of 2022. It receives no funding from the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, which said Feb. 27 that there are only 135 students eligible to graduate in April or transfer. The Ministry said it will make students whole if Quest doesn’t and encourages students to reach out to the Degree Quality Assessment Board Secretariat with any questions or concerns. 

The Quest website says it charges Canadians $23,000 and non-Canadians $38,000 for annual  tuition. Room, board, travel and other fees are estimated at $15,000.  

Quest is governed by the provincial Sea to Sky University Act, which includes a section about winding up and dissolution. If the university were to close permanently, instead of the announced suspension of operations, all funds and property remaining after payment to employees, cover debts, and fund student access to transcripts must be distributed to “qualified donees” designated by the board, as defined in the federal Income Tax Act. 

—with a file from Steven Chua

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