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Squamish’s Quest University suspending classes indefinitely after April

The future for Quest staff remains uncertain.
Squamish campus of Quest University.

Trouble has returned to Quest University. 

The private Squamish liberal arts and sciences university was under court protection from creditors in 2020 before a New Westminster company threw it a lifeline. Three years later, the board of governors announced Thursday that it had voted to suspend classes indefinitely following completion of the current academic year in April.

The board made the move public at 5 p.m. on Feb. 23, after meetings with staff and faculty. 

“This action is being taken so the board and the executive can focus on restructuring finances and operations,” read the Quest statement. “The university will continue current operations through the spring and then undertake an evaluation as to when it may be able to resume future enrolments and full academic programming.”

The announcement comes after Quest president Art Coren and vice-president, academic, Jeff Warren and several other senior members of staff and faculty ignored repeated phone calls and emails from a reporter for more than a week. Board chair Arthur Willms also did not respond.

The news release said “several factors” contributed to the decision, but the factors were not detailed. 

Glacier Media reported Feb. 22 that Quest landlord Primacorp Ventures had discontinued providing the student recruitment, marketing, fundraising and other support services that it committed in the October 2020 agreement to acquire the land and buildings. 

Primacorp, under chair Peter Chung, bills itself as Canada’s largest provider of private post-secondary education with 15,000 annual enrolments. It 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. 

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

The spring graduation will proceed on April 29 on campus. Students not yet eligible for graduation will receive one-on-one help to transition to other schools under transfer agreements, while prospective students who have paid application fees or enrolment deposits for September 2023 will receive refunds. 

The workforce at Quest, however, is in limbo. The statement said they would be advised “in the coming days” about their future. 

Quest opened in 2007 under former University of British Columbia president David Strangway. As of 2022, more than 1,000 students had graduated from Quest. 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.  

In January 2020, Quest sought court protection from creditors under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act after the Vanchorverve Foundation, a charity registered by Vancouver lawyer Blake Bromley, demanded repayment of $23.4 million.

In November 2020, then Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott issued a public statement expressing “grave concern” over Primacorp’s takeover. The district had supported Quest since a June 2000 memorandum of understanding and later waived property taxes for the university and spent $5 million on municipal services infrastructure.

Elliott said the deal with for-profit Primacorp created “an uphill runway that will make it difficult for it to be viable.”