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Languages Canada shows its teeth as ISP rules bite

As details of Canada’s new International Student Program (ISP) brings both support and disappointment for educators, Languages Canada, which promotes accredited English and French language training in Canada, is repositioning itself as an organisation that pulls no punches in confronting the Canadian government on behalf of its members.

A busy conference in Toronto saw unanimous acceptance of a new Strategic Direction

"We have to be equipped to go out and confront these things in a proactive way, which is what the Strategic Direction is"

“It’s our neighbourhood – if someone’s house is on fire in my neighbourhood that’s of concern to me”

The ISP came under scrutiny by the association’s membership of private and public institutions as they came together in Toronto last week for the organisation’s annual conference.

One change that has been universally welcomed is a rule requiring students to actively pursue, rather than show intent to, study in Canada.

“We’ve been asking for that for years as well as the change in being able to apply for a change in [visa] status within Canada,” Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta told The PIE News. “This will do nothing but support our pathway programmes… we are very supportive.”

While these changes marked significant victories for the sector, other rules were repeatedly described as “extremely disappointing”.

The curtailment of co-op programmes, despite the association’s fierce lobbying efforts, was a sore point for many ESL providers, which Peralta called an “insult” to the entire industry. He accused the government of having “a complete lack of understanding of what language education is” and predicted that Canada will lose 12-15,000 students a year as a consequence.

Following an address by representatives from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), Peralta attacked CIC’s argument that new regulations will open up jobs to Canadian citizens as “disingenuous”, saying that the sector had been unfairly targeted as the affected students make up only 3% of foreign nationals working in Canada.

Despite this vocal opposition, institutions’ reactions varied according to their individual concerns, and the association faces the challenge of rallying its private and public members to offer a united front.

Public institutions were reminded that their voices lend legitimacy when bringing arguments to government are integral to Language Canada’s lobbying efforts.

David Parkinson, LC board member and Director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Language Centre, told The PIE News: “If we see ourselves as an industry, if the government intervenes or meddles in something that affects our industry so profoundly [as the loss of co-op programmes] then we should all be concerned. It’s our neighbourhood – if someone’s house is on fire in my neighbourhood that’s of concern to me.”

He warned that the public sector is “not immune” to adverse impacts of the new regulations, adding that many will now be unable to offer even basic information regarding visas to their international students, under a separate new rule.

Despite these concerns, Peralta insisted that the organisation is “more united than ever”, as demonstrated by the unanimous approval of its Strategic Direction for the coming year at the AGM.

“Where there is tension there is energy, and where there is energy there is movement and advancement”

“There will always be that tension, and our challenge is to recognise the tension, to accept it and to work with it,” he said. “Where there is tension there is energy, and where there is energy there is movement and advancement.”

A key component of the Strategic Direction is to fight against this measure by ensuring institutions’ voices are heard by the government. Other aspects include the hiring of two new members – bringing the total number of paid staff to seven – and introducing a forum for members to discuss new proposals online.

“It’s been proven over and over again that cooperation trumps trying to isolate oneself in so many endeavours… We have to be equipped to go out and confront these things in a proactive way, which is what the Strategic Direction is,” Parkinson added.

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