An investigative report
by Globe and Mail reporters Mark MacKinnon and Rod Mickleburgh is raising concerns about Canadian universities’ ties to international student recruitment agencies.
The report tells the story of “Vic,” a 19-year-old Chinese student whose family paid $20,000 in tuition fees to the Aoji Education Group, a Beijing-based student recruiting agency, for which he and his parents thought would pay for his economic degree studies at a Canadian university.
Instead, Vic spent eight months in English-language training at Aoji’s walled campus near Beijing International Airport, followed by one semester of non-credit English classes at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.
He came home from UFV ashamed and discouraged, with very little language training and no university credits.
“They told us we would go to a university when we got to Canada, but actually it was only a language course,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We were very depressed.”
Thousands of Chinese students are provided to Canadian colleges and universities each year via recruitment agencies eager to take advantage of students seeking to earn degrees abroad and lured by cash-strapped universities that increasingly rely on the high fees paid by international students.
UFV eventually severed ties with Aoji over an undisclosed conflict, but Aoji is still recruiting for Navitas Ltd., an Australian company that has set up for-profit colleges to serve international students in partnership with Simon Fraser University and the University of Manitoba. Last year Aoji sent 70 students to those private colleges.
William Ko, financial director of the Simon Fraser venture, Fraser International College, refused to talk to the Globe and Mail about the relationship with Aoji, saying “we’re not providing any information at all.”
The agreement at Simon Fraser was the first for Navitas in Canada, and has just been renewed.
At Manitoba, faculty and students are working to ensure the Navitas contract isn’t renewed when it expires.
“Of course we are concerned about the presence of Navitas on our campus because the workers at the International College of Manitoba are doing work already being performed by our members and members of CUPE 3909,” said Cameron Morrill, president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association.
“It’s clear Navitas sees international students as just a source of profit, and is using our university’s reputation, and its publicly funded spaces such as classrooms, labs and libraries to make that profit,” he said.
“The private companies are essentially the middlemen, getting a cut by buying the university’s brand name, property and other resources for credibility and a competitive advantage,” said David Robinson, CAUT’s associate executive director. “And the universities are making a profit by selling their brand to companies like Navitas in exchange for tuition fees from students who otherwise don’t qualify.”
Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney seems to share at least some of those concerns.
“There’s an industry of bottom-feeders that try to profit from people’s dreams of visiting, immigrating or studying in Canada,” he said on a recent visit to China, where he warned students to be careful.
Students and faculty at the University of Windsor recently defeated a bid for a similar college proposed by another for-profit multinational corporation, Study Group International.
Navitas is now trying to convince Carleton University to partner with it on a similar venture. The university’s administration has set up a working group, which excludes the academic staff association, to consider the proposal.
“We have a number of concerns about any public/private venture like this, and will do everything we can to make sure our members understand the pitfalls for students, faculty and the university itself, so we can stop it,” said Patrizia Gentile, Carleton’s academic staff association internal affairs officer.
Study Group International, Navitas and their global private sector competitors INTO and Kaplan have been aggressively seeking partnerships for years at campuses around the world, and in most cases are facing opposition from workers and students.
CAUT, along with other unions representing education workers around the world, has joined the Education Solidarity Network
, set up to share resources on the threats posed by university programme providers.