New legislation harmful to ESL in BC, says Languages Canada

17, March, 2015

Languages Canada, the association representing more than 227 language education member programmes and schools across Canada, has urged British Columbia’s (BC) provincial government to reconsider passing legislation that could impact ESL educational tourism in the province.

Languages Canada, Executive Director, Gonzalo Peralta addresses the delegation at the 8th Annual conference in Gatineau, QC.

Bill 7 (The Private Career Training Act), which was introduced to BC legislature this month, sees language programme providers falling under the same legislation as career training schools.

In an open letter to Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson, and circulated to media outlets in the BC area, Languages Canada Executive Director, Gonzalo Peralta, stated, “[Bill 7] will not meet the objectives of protecting international students nor will it create an environment of growth and innovation for BC’s accredited language programmes as the BC government seems to think it will.”

In 2013, Languages Canada member schools in BC (of which 52 are private and 13 public) welcomed 52,823 international students and generated CAN$535 million (US$419 million) in export revenue for the province. However, a sequence of changes to the BC regulatory environment has hampered growth, with incoming numbers falling by seven per cent in 2013. Peralta said, “In the past two and half years, government has proposed three times legislation that attempted to cram all segments into one neat category, and three times it has failed.”

Peralta questioned how the language sector would fit into the new legislative framework, adding provincial government were trying to address the needs of various educational segments, but were failing to recognise their inherent differences. “Language programmes, even those in the private sector, are not career colleges…If we are to come under the same legislation as career colleges, flight schools, theology programmes, and others, it should be a separate section that addresses the needs of our students and institutions.”

The association criticised government’s decision not to oversee all language programmes in the province which could leave the sector open to abuse by bogus operators. It also criticised the lack of safeguarding in the confines of the new bill. As it stands there is no financial or placement plan in place for students should a school or college close. In the letter, Peralta heralded Languages Canada’s own quality assurance scheme which addresses student protection and oversight so effectively not a single member programme in BC has closed its doors in more than 10 years.

“Languages Canada has created a framework that is respected worldwide and that works. All members are accredited by an independent body. Not a single student has been lost. And much of our advancement in quality assurance and student protection that benefitted all of Canada was created here, in BC,” he said.

Peralta added that government were wrong to think the bill would foster growth and innovation among the province’s accredited ESL sector, with “potential students, partners, and government overseas uncertain about a province that did not provide a guarantee of protection and a stable environment for its institutions.” He concluded that BC schools needed certainty and that the ‘tinkering’ should end so that BC schools could plan for the future.

Languages Canada revealed a new look logo at its 8th annual conference, voted for by members.

The association is now campaigning for the language education sector to be recognised as a separate faction and is calling for legislation amendment. For more details click here.

British Columbia is not the only province bemoaning legislative change or lack thereof. During an overview of the past years’ activities at the recent Languages Canada Conference in Gatineau, QC, the Quebecian contingent remained in a state of designation limbo – provincial government has so far refused to designate private language schools in the province. Meanwhile, the loss of the combined language plus work programme is still being felt across the board. According to Peralta the co op programme represented 15 per cent of member business and its loss has been significant.

The topic of work rights for language students was given more air time during the government update session by Citizen and Immigration Canada (CIC). Members were keen to glean whether work rights for language students would be reinstated. “Work experience in Canada is a privilege, not an immediate right,” replied CIC’s Melissa Fama, who was keen to impress that progress with ISP reform had been made with a view to ‘levelling out the playing field’. She added that the government department would continue its dialogue with the association to counter challenges member programmes now face.

Throughout the conference the Australian model for international education was used as a shining example of what Canada should be aspiring to. Sue Blundell, Executive Director of English Australia hosted a session on the benefits of a national student satisfaction survey and was quizzed as to this destination’s return to form during the inaugural Armchair Chronicles. Blundell later told ST Magazine, “Knowledge sharing is important. Languages Canada members are competitors, so too are country associations, but coming together to knowledge share is important and how everybody can gain.”

Indeed, this year’s conference, entitled Bridges to the Future, reflected a sense of renewed focus for Languages Canada, with the association and its delegation keen to move forward. "This year’s conference was a truly memorable and inspiring event. Our delegates demonstrated a united front on key issues affecting the language education sector, ensuring we continue to work together to make positive change in pressing policy matters in 2015," Peralta told ST Magazine.

During the three day event, the association unveiled a brand new logo – with members voting for their preferred format during the conference – and a new interactive website with features such as a new members area, a research and statistics page and downloadable documents for students and study travel agents. The new website is part of the association’s drive to increase association visibility and position the sector as indispensable.

For more conference insight please read last week’s Editor’s Opinion.



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