International school proposal irks U of C staff

Plan calls for a third party to run new program

A suggested plan to increase the University of Calgary’s international student population is not sitting well with the school’s Faculty Association.

Last month university administration revealed unofficial plans to open an on-campus prep-school for international students who either do not have the marks or the prerequisites to be accepted into the U of C. An International Task Force chaired by U of C provost and vice-president of academics Dru Marshall recommended that instead of using instructors directly employed by the university a private third-party contractor could operate and staff the international school which would include full-credit university courses. That potential P3 partnership is the main sticking point for detractors.

Faculty Association president Paul Rogers wrote a letter to faculty staff on October 31 urging them to register their discontent and vote against the proposal when it comes before the General Faculties Council on December 12.

“This is putting the university’s reputation at great risk. The best way to guarantee the quality of international students and all students is to ensure that academic programs are firmly in the hands of the university’s academic staff” says Rogers in an interview.

The U of C’s “Eyes High” strategy calls for international students to make up 10 per cent of the undergraduate student body (roughly twice the current number) and 25 per cent of the graduate student body by 2015. Marshall says the committee charged with deciding how the institution could meet that goal in time realized the U of C doesn’t have the resources to hire enough people to recruit international students directly or operate an in-house international pathway program. The provincial government cut post-secondary funding by 7.3 per cent last March.

The university currently employs two people to recruit international students. Marshall says the University of British Columbia and University of Alberta each employ 20 to 30 recruiters.

“So imagine us then having to make a decision to hire an additional 18 to 28 recruiters in order to compete with what UBC and U of A are doing right now. That’s in the two- to three-million-dollar range” says Marshall. She also explains the current unofficial proposal would require no more than two classrooms and two offices on campus. Students would likely pay the same tuition as international students already accepted into a U of C program (typically three times the amount paid by domestic students). She also says administration is committed to preventing increased international student numbers displacing domestic applicants.

But Rogers says Marshall’s numbers “don’t make sense.”

“There’s so much pressure for space on the campus. The government’s own documents say they (U of C) are going to be 4000 spaces short at some point before 2021. So it’s a little unclear as to how we’re going to keep up with growth in the amount of domestic students while doubling the undergraduate international enrolment” he says. He also worries a private company may let academic standards slide if it is motivated by the university’s need to see those students successfully complete the pathway program to gain entrance to an undergraduate program.

“There’s certainly concern about the quality of students getting in through say a back door to students with wealthy parents” he says although he reaffirms the Faculty Association’s main concerns are “having a third party to be teaching the equivalent to full-credit academic courses.”

“That is clearly something that is the responsibility of the academic staff in the institution. The other issue is what’s the best way of going about increasing your international student number? I’m not sure that issue is being fully explored.”

The undergraduate students’ association has yet to choose a side in the debate. Students’ Union president Raphael Jacob says Marshall and Rogers have presented their arguments to the Students’ Union and he can see merit in both.

“The concerns for moving forward with the third-party model would be…. What does this mean for our current students?” says Jacob. “If they can’t pay student union fees which I don’t believe they’re allowed to are they still allowed to access our food bank? Who is providing for these students? We know that international students generally need greater resources than a typical domestic student does… [yet] the alternate option that faculty is presenting isn’t really feasible. We can’t really do this in-house because we don’t have the resources we don’t have the people and we don’t have the money.”

Marshall says administration had originally expected the plan to be approved by the General Faculties Council in mid-December but that a formal proposal likely won’t be tabled until March 2014 because “people needed to be educated about what third-party providers do… and wait to start critiquing.” She still favours the P3 model saying the university staff must discuss the issue with an open mind.

“Should we stop the conversation now and say ‘third party absolutely not nobody is interested in it’? Or should we say we’d like to at least put it on the table and explore the option in more depth? Which is exactly the process we’re in now” she says.