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Canada: private language schools hit out at new regs in BC

New regulations that private language schools in British Columbia have had to adhere to since the end of 2015 in order to be able to accept student visa holders are costly and an ill-fit that will drive a quality schism in the industry, claim stakeholders.

Walkey asked all private language members in BC who had written to the premier about their concerns over accreditation rules to stand up. Photo: The PIE News

Languages Canada members are facing onerous costs to pass an accreditation scheme designed for career colleges

This was the chief concern discussed at the Languages Canada conference in Victoria, BC last week, just metres away from the parliamentary building where the Ministry of Advanced Education has been working with the sector to work out an interim regulation agreement until the new Private Training Act is ushered in later this year.

But the sector is aggrieved that compliance costs and workload have increased, with members claiming that Languages Canada’s own quality assurance scheme is being disregarded by the ministry.

Meanwhile, private language schools that are content not to undergo PCTIA quality assessment and only teach short-term students for less than six months (not those on a student visa) are escaping the costly regulation requirement.

The two-tier approach to regulation may even encourage student churn, as schools teaching only those on a tourist visa may be able to entice students with cheaper courses that have not been quality-assured, claims the association’s BC Chapter, while Languages Canada members are facing onerous costs to pass an accreditation scheme designed for career colleges.

Speaking exclusively with The PIE News, the BC Chapter explained that for a number of years, the sector had functioned adequately with a memorandum of understanding with the BC government which recognised the “strong self-regulation [of Languages Canada members], our own accreditation and our own student protection measures in place”, explained Mike Walkey, Managing Director of ELS Language Centers in Canada.

But a policy shift in 2014 to ensure all schools teaching study permit holders are at a Designated Learning Institution has seen a radical reappraisal of procedure from the province.

Sharon Curl, President of Languages Canada and a member of the BC chapter, commented, “The worry that we have is that we will see less students coming here because of the impact it is going to have on price.  The other problem that we are worried about is the impact it is going to have on schools that will opt not to go through the process and ultimately affect the quality of education here.”

Sample fee comparison for quality accreditation

Sample fee comparison for quality accreditation

Sample accreditation fees outlined during the conference do show an uplift of 40-60% in fees when compared to those in Ontario, for example.

Responding to these concerns, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education told The PIE News, “The BC government has committed to a cost recovery model under the Private Training Act. This may result in higher costs than provinces that subsidise the regulation of the sector.”

However, the spokesperson said that the ministry had made a number of significant concessions for Languages Canada members.

“The Ministry of Advanced Education and PCTIA established a streamlined accreditation process for Languages Canada members that recognises elements of Languages Canada accreditation.

“As well, the Province and PCTIA reduced both the student training completion fund and administrative fees for Languages Canada members to the rates paid by high performing and low risk institutions.”

“That’s 1 or 2% that we would normally be spending on marketing, on development, on programme development”

The student training completion fund is a protection mechanism that was singled out for criticism, because stakeholders underlined that it only protects a majority of students at a DLI, whereas Languages Canada’s own assurance model covers all students at member schools. (The STCF fees do not apply for vacation programmes).

Kristina Stewart, Owner at Stewart College, observed, “As Languages Canada schools, we do already pay into a programme that has protected students very effectively for many years, [and now we] also have to pay into a fund that actually that does not protect our students as well.”

Student training completion fees are calculated as a small percentage of fee revenue. But Dan Tisbury at ILAC told The PIE News, “Taking 1 or 2% off the top, that’s 1 or 2% that we would normally be spending on marketing, on development, on programme development, on innovation.”

He continued, “The irony of this is that at the beginning of this process with the provincial government, one of their clearly stated intentions was to reduce the unregulated part of the language sector. Now when we raise [the issue], the response is, well those schools are not our responsibility.”

The ministry spokesperson confirmed, “BC is focussing on international students entering the country on study permits. Institutions only enrolling students to take short term language programmes and entering the country on visitor visas are not required to be registered or accredited with PCTIA.”

There are hopes that new Private Training Act will address some of the sector’s concerns. Melissa Macdonald at KGIC spoke of contracts that students have to sign under PCTIA rules, which are “designed for career training institutions and a second language English learner is going to have extreme difficulty reading through the contract that they have to sign”, she said.

But Curl noted, “the big issue is the quality of the schools that can still operate [without being a DLI], it has actually widened the gap and it is going to be  a couple of years down the road before this becomes a bigger problem.”

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