Controversy continues to dog a private school for international students that partnered with the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg as a “pathway” to future university studies.
The International College Manitoba (ICM) has offered English as a second language and university preparatory courses for more than four years out of the university’s main campus, touting itself as “your pathway to University of Manitoba” on a website rife with university pictures and references.
ICM instructors tutor international students who don’t have the skills for undergraduate university entry, in exchange for substantial fees. Once students’ marks and language skills improve, they can graduate directly to year two at the university.
When the contract between the university and ICM’s Australian parent company Navitas, a publicly traded and for-profit global provider of “education services,” was announced in 2008, it came as a surprise to faculty and students, and was already a done deal.
Reportedly a five-year contract, the secret brokering of the deal with no notice to the university senate, board of governors, or faculty association, became the cause of heated debate in senate meetings following the posted announcement of the contract on the Navitas website.
Last November’s senate meeting held another shock for faculty when it was announced that what had originally been thought to be a five-year contract with Navitas, is in fact a 10-year contract expiring in 2018.
“We’ve had a nasty surprise,” said Cameron Morrill, past president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA).
“We expected a review prior to the five-year expiry in 2013. Now, we’re told there will still be a review, but it’s not clear when or what will be reviewed, and in any event, the contract goes until 2018.”
Recent media reports highlighting student complaints about ICM’s recruiting tactics, refund policy and alleged promises of Canadian citizenship and work availability have also reignited speculation about the appropriateness of ICM’s presence on campus.
Faculty members continue to question the lack of transparency around ICM’s establishment, and some senators have asked why they do not have any oversight into its ongoing activities.
In 2008 when questions were originally posed about the deal, university administrators refused to divulge details. Senators filed a freedom of information request to see the contract between the university and Navitas.
After their initial request was denied, an appeal to the provincial ombudsman resulted in release of a redacted version, with financial information blacked out.
According to senate minutes, the document was subsequently made publicly available for viewing in the Office of the University Secretary.
CBC News has also reported it obtained a copy of the contract through a similar FOI request, which came with financial information blacked out as well.
Morrill says faculty remain concerned with the lack of information about the financial aspects of the contract because while such secrecy may be normal in private industry, the university is a public institution.
“ICM uses publicly-funded classroom space. But because of the secrecy it’s impossible to prove to Manitobans that the resources are being used wisely,” said Morrill, who teaches financial accounting at the university’s Asper School of Business.
But he lists UMFA’s main concerns as the outsourcing of teaching that instructors at ICM represent, along with the fact the school is for-profit.
“They make more money if their students are successful. We think this translates into pressure on the instructors to make sure the students succeed,” he said.
Beyond pressure to succeed, some ICM students have raised concerns that ICM recruited them even though they had sufficient marks and language skills for direct entry to the university.
CBC News interviewed several students who charge that overseas recruiters convinced them to hand over hefty fees to study at ICM, and even allege they were told that ICM was part of the university.
While ICM remains a separate legal entity from the University of Manitoba, that fact may be difficult to discern from the ICM website, where a revolving panel of images on the home page displays the university in picturesque detail, and declares: “Click here to preview your life on campus at the UoM.”
Another web page displays an image of university president and vice-chancellor David Barnard with accompanying text: “I would like to welcome International College of Manitoba (ICM) students to Western Canada’s oldest university…”
David Collins, the University of Manitoba’s vice-provost of academic planning and programs, responded publicly to the students’ complaints by saying he is concerned and surprised by some of the allegations.
However, Collins also noted that ICM, and not the university, is responsible for the behavior of its recruiters. The university will not disclose how much money it makes each time ICM recruits a student.
Neither Collins, nor Susan Deane, ICM college director and principal, returned calls seeking comment.