Jada Jasmine Jones, a recent graduate from MUN’s Ocean Naval Architectural Engineering program (ONAE), is owed $5,487.53 from Memorial University.
After having overcome numerous unnecessary obstacles throughout her program, Jones is now convocated and ready to move on. There’s only one thing holding her back… MUN’s reluctance to reimburse her for the money she is due.
Back in the spring of 2022, as Jones was preparing for her final exams, she was informed by the Co-op Office that due to an outstanding tuition balance from the previous term, her upcoming work placement would be revoked.
“Half of the tuition was already paid, I think most of it actually,” says Jones. She then tried to set up a payment plan, giving her a month to pay off the outstanding balance. However, the plan was rejected without cause or any recommendations.
Jones then went straight to the Internationalization office for feedback, where she says she was informed: “that the fact they didn’t give [her] an excuse was already a red flag— because they’re supposed to give feedback and possibly an additional modified payment plan in order to get it approved.”
Based on her experience, Jones emphasizes that her first payment plan was rejected, “without cause, without effort, and without any feedback.”
It was around that same time, her parents received the approval for a grant from the Ministry of Education in Belize that could pay off her outstanding tuition debt, as well as go toward her living expenses.
Jones is an international student who moved to Newfoundland from Belize. After having received the approval for the grant, her parents had to go through a lengthy process to get the money transferred to the university. “The problem is because of how the wire transfer happens in Belize; it was very complicated,” says Jones. “The banks were shutting down, people were switching over, it was a process. The way the transfer works is they had to send the money from Belize to the US and from the US to Canada, so that was going to take a while.”
Jones explained the situation with the grant to financial services when requesting the above-mentioned payment plan. However, due to the lack of proof that the grant money would eventually come through, as previously stated, the plan was denied without cause. Without a payment plan or loan from the university, Jones would have to forfeit her work term.
Thankfully, after numerous meetings and consultations, her second payment plan and grant were accepted, and she was able to complete her work term; this was in part due to the support she received from the Faculty of Engineering’s Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Dennis Peters, and an Immigration Advisor from the University’s Internationalization Office, Ms. Juanita Hennessey.
The grant finally came through in October of that year, and just over $13,000 CA was transferred directly to MUN; paying for the entirety of her final semester, and then some.
“It was also supposed to go towards living expenses. But, the way it works is it has to be transferred to the school directly,” explains Jones. “We didn’t think it would be a problem because it’s in my name and was released to me.”
But once her tuition was paid, the rest of the money went into overdraft, and she had no access to what was left over. On top of that, there is an additional $700 that she has yet to receive to reimburse her for her courses that were paused during the strike.
When she first went to the Cashier’s Office back in March of this year, she was told that the money would have to go back through the original method of payment.
“It seems very convoluted. According to my parents, they said there is no way for them to transfer it back because, like I said, the way the wire transfer works, it got sent to a bank in the States and then sent to MUN,” explains Jones. “So, what are they going to do? Re-track it to the States. What are they going to do with that money? Maybe track it back to Belize, and then what’s going to happen? It’s going to be in a blank account when the sole purpose of it was to be released to me. So, it’s even more convoluted than it needs to be.”
Jones’ partner, Luke MacIssac, further explains the process of the transfer, saying, “It’s most likely what they would call a swift transfer. What happens in a swift transfer is banks have partner banks, and they have to go from one bank to another. If bank A is here and bank D is here, it has to go through B and C. So, we don’t know if when it’s released, it can even go back because the way it’s been described to us is similar to how you might get a GST grant or the CERB payment; it’s multidepartmental, and you can’t just return it— this is what we have been told.”
Returning the funds to the country of origin, as stated by the Cashier’s Office, means transferring the money back through the process through which it came. As a result, not only will Jones never see the money, but it will never be used in the way it was intended, for her necessary living expenses.
Policy for refunds on overpaid tuition
When searching through Memorial’s website and the university calendars from previous years, there appears to be no clear-cut policy for refunds on overpayments. Unlike other universities, such as Waterloo, where their website states explicitly that, “If the refundable amount relates to an international payment that was originally made by someone other than the student, the refund must be returned to the original bank account.”
Image credit: Waterloo University (via their website)
With Jada’s grant being in her name, the assumption was that there would be no problem transferring the money directly back to her bank account. Regardless, it is the lack of clearly defined policy that has further exacerbated the situation.
Jones is now waiting on documents from Belize outlining the purpose and transfer process of the student aid grant in hopes that it will be enough proof for the Cashier’s Office that the funds in overdraft should be returned to her directly.
The Muse has reached out to the Cashier’s Office for clarification on the refund policy for overpaid tuition fees, as well as if they would like to comment on Ms. Jones’ specific situation. As of now, we have received no response.
Support from MUNSU
After meeting with Memorial University’s Student Union for advice and to gain further perspective on the situation, Jones has now received a letter of support from the Director of Advocacy, Mackenzie Broders.
The letter advocates for Jones by supporting her request for a refund of the over $5,000 overdraft while also condemning her treatment by staff at the Cashier’s Office throughout the ongoing process.
Jones and her partner are making continued efforts to obtain the refund. They have sent the letter of support from MUNSU to the Director of Finance and Administration at Memorial University, Deborah Collis, as well as reached out to their MHA, John Abbott, in hopes that they can get clear feedback and support in favour of the funds being returned.
As of now, Jones is still waiting on a letter of support from the government of Belize, as well as the documents from Belize that will confirm the intention behind the grant.
Until then, she is continuing to speak up about the lack of transparency she has received, and hopes to be able to move forward and resolve the situation as soon as possible. As a recent graduate, Jones has felt that her case is not a priority since she is no longer a student with Memorial University, saying that in her case it was “shoved to the side” and that it has gotten continuously more “confusing and convoluted for no reason.”