Western’s faculty union sharply criticized a possible deal between Western and a for-profit education company that would outsource teaching of international students for their first year to a private company.
Western University is considering the move with Navitas, a for-profit company that works with over 120 campuses around the world, according to its website. Under the deal thus far, Navitas would recruit 750 students overall to enter Western as second, third or fourth-years after completing one year with Navitas.
John Ciriello, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, outlined a set of serious concerns in a statement published on Wednesday. While the deal would bring hundreds of new students onto campus, Ciriello noted that the quality of labour and curriculum would be taken away from the usual systems in Western — despite the hefty international tuition fees the administration would net.
UWOFA constitutes essentially all faculty on main campus. Ciriello's statement read that part of their commitment is to secure, full-time employment, whereas instructors at Navitas would be hired by the company itself. Instructors would likely enter into short-term contracts, either as existing Western employees or people with no relation to the school.
Students who are enrolled in such a program are essentially promised entry into second-year, Ciriello said, worrying this will create tremendous pressures for instructors to relax their normal academic standards.
The issue came up at this month’s senate meeting, where issues between faculty and administration often flare-up.
On Jan. 7, provost Andrew Hrymak said Western is concerned about not providing sufficient diversity of program choices for international students. There are about four or five areas the majority of international students apply to, said Hrymak, and the introduction of an external education provider can address those diversification issues.
Hrymak also noted that about two thirds of students who apply to Western are from domestic highschools, and introducing a program like Navitas’s international college will diversify the applicant pool.
"This partnership could ... provide great benefit and support to international students prior to beginning their programs at Western," Hrymak said in an email to the Gazette.
Amit Chakma, Western’s president from 2009 to 2019, dramatically increased Western’s international student enrolment — from 2 per cent to 14 per cent.
But Ciriello worries about the economic pressure that could go hand-in-hand with the push to admit students from the college into upper years at Western.
“We are one of the best universities in Canada. We’re probably one of the best universities in the world. Do we want to reduce that just because of money? I don’t think that’s fair, and I think it’s wrong,” he said.
Hrymak noted the success rate of international students involved with Navitas at the University of Manitoba and Simon Fraser University, who had higher retention rates than international students recruited directly into the university, he said.
According to Hrymak, Western is still in the discovery process, and the administration intends to discuss the agreement with the dean of each faculty at Western, whose discretion would be final in determining whether students have a pathway into a certain program through the international college.
However, Ciriello expressed he believes the deans are the wrong people for administration to reach out to: faculties that are under-funded would face pressure to accept the financial benefits of hundreds of new students at the compromise of the quality of education.
“I think it’s time the university spends a little bit of time with [students and UWOFA] to talk about ... the implications” he said.
Hrymak added that Western will follow all governance and approval processes in Senate and Board of Governors for any proposed agreement.
Ciriello said UWOFA has heard several other Canadian universities have rejected the opportunity to enter into a similar agreement with Navitas.
“We should have education available for everyone but this is, to me, a system which really takes advantage of it” he said.