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Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Truth be told. The Globe and Mail uses its front page to question the partners Canadian universities get into bed with.

Finally ! Some truths are told in the mainstream media about the perils Canadian universities expose themselves to when entering schemes where unaccountable third party agencies market their programs. Of all such schemes, none is more fraught with this peril, than those known as “foundation” or “bridge” or “pre-U” programs, whether in Canada or abroad, that may expressly entice students ill-suited to study in universities.

Two of the most experienced Globe and Mail reporters, (Mark MacKinnon and Rod Mickleburgh), wrote the story (Oct 16) which was highlighted on the front page and comes across like an exposé.

The article plants some of the blame at the feet of a few Canadian universities for aligning themselves with selling false promises of admissions to their university programs. The promise is predicated upon enrollment at a foreign-owned college at, or near the affiliated Canadian university campus, with the impression being the student is in fact studying at that Canadian university. The truth is that most of these alliances place students in language programs and introductory academic programs, with little hope of making it to the degree-granting campus.

The Globe gets much of the story right – but fails to hammer home the big point – the sharpest one which punctures the plans of the participating Canadian universities. The article quotes critics claiming these universities take in students who are not otherwise qualified for admission. That is true. In the UK and Australia, these same private company-run colleges offer foundation years BEFORE students graduate to year one of a three year UK or Australian university degree.

But Canadian degrees are four years. It’s a losing sales pitch to have one year at the private foundation college and only then gain admission to the first year of Canada’s four year degree programs – and thus take five years to get a four year degree. The Canadian spin is that the foundation program articulates into the SECOND YEAR at the partner university. As implausible as it seems, these Canadian universities take students who commonly lack both the English proficiency and the demonstrable academic record normally required for admission in the first place – but in that one year of study at the private college, transform them into good enough scholars to advance to second year university, and thus a four year degree, takes four years. The truth the Globe article alludes to, is that very few of these students can survive a Canadian university program, and the universities’ supposed sacrosanct academic integrity just waives them in.

Why do some Canadian universities propose and participate in, such an outlandish scenario? Of course because it sells. Of course because they want the money. Of course it’s misleading. There is no magic elixir which morphs these mediocre students into what it takes to belong in traditionally accepted (supposedly “high”) academic standards for a Canadian university. Most of these students will never make it to that second year (few of them belong in first year). But in the intensely competitive international education market, you can’t easily sell a $15k tuition fee for an extra year of study. Better to position it as Year One at a renowned university and lead students on that they will go to second year afterwards at the main campus, and thus finish their four year degree, in four years.

It does not take a PhD in Education to question how this is possible. Unless these Canadian universities seriously dumb down their curriculums (that’s coming next by the way in “the great race to the bottom”), then realistically, very few of these students will pass through to year two. The universities, and certainly not their private college partners,
will spell out how few students actually made the grade to move on. What is clear is that most students will drift away and never get the degrees they first came for, but not before the private college and public university, cash in.

“The Edge” by Mel Broitman, Director of the Canadian University Application Centre. Mel is in India this week for the CUAC Education Fairs in four Indian cities (Oct 24-31), and winds up in Bangladesh on November 5th.

Source: “Chinese students pay dearly for Canadian ‘education’”. Globe and Mail, October 15, 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/asia-pacific/chinese-students-pay-dearly-for-canadian-education/article1760144/

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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