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VEC students unprotected due to regulation loophole, says NDP

The sudden closure of Vancouver English Centre in British Columbia points to gaps in the regulation of language study in the province, according to stakeholders and the opposition party, who have said the current legislation fails to adequately protect students.

VEC suddenly closed amid a month-long teachers' strike and salary negotiations. Photo: Education and Training Employees’ Association Local 9.

"We predicted that there would be failures, that students would lose thousands of dollars"

VEC closed abruptly last week after a lengthy pay dispute and month-long teachers’ strike. Around 600 students have been affected, and there are reports that staff and homestay providers have been left out of pocket.

“All international students should be treated with the same consideration, care and respect regardless of the length of their course”

In BC, institutions that enrol international students on programmes longer than six months are subject to oversight by BC’s Private Career Training Institutions Agency, which includes protections for students in the case of closure.

However, unless they choose to voluntarily opt in to the legislation, short-term study programmes are not subject to the same oversight. VEC was not part of the scheme and was able to operate unregulated, with no student protection policy.

Speaking with The PIE News, Sharon Curl, president of representative body Languages Canada and a member of the association’s BC chapter said the VEC closure highlights the regulatory gap and the need for effective student protections.

“Short-term students can attend either type of school and the students who chose a PCTIA accredited school have better protection,” she said.

“Languages Canada believes all international students should be treated with the same consideration, care and respect regardless of the length of their course,” she said, adding that the association’s own quality assurance framework affords students even greater student protection.

BC’s current opposition party, the NDP, has seized upon the closure as evidence that educators’ fears have been realised.

“We predicted that there would be failures, that students would lose thousands of dollars, but [the government] decided to go ahead and leave that loophole there,” NDP’s advanced education spokesperson, Kathy Corrigan, told CBC.

“What [we’ve ended] up with is, once again, having a school close down and our reputation as a destination for post-secondary education language schools taking a big hit.”

When new, costly compliance measures were introduced last year for private language schools teaching longer-term students, alarm bells were raised by some educators in the province, who warned the policies may create a quality schism that would damage the province’s reputation.

“Languages Canada hopes to work with government to find solutions to prevent this type of situation from happening again”

In March, Curl said providers were worried about “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”.

Other members argued the regulations would impose expensive regulatory requirements on some providers while running the risk of encouraging student churn at others.

The school’s closure affects 600 international students and leaves 100 staff members unemployed. One student, Youngil Shin, said he will now leave without finishing his course and with CAN$1,000 in undelivered course fees.

In light of the current closure, Curl said, “Languages Canada hopes to work with government to find solutions to prevent this type of situation from happening again and in the meantime, we’ll work with students and agencies to help as many students as possible.”

However, BC Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson defended the policy, suggesting no action would be taken to amend regulations.

“International students take advantage of a wide range of short-term ESL programmes offered by private language schools located throughout British Columbia,” he told The PIE News.

“Unless they host international students who are in the province on study permits for programmes of more than six months, private language schools are not required to register with the regulatory body.”

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