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ESL school closure a concern, but no reason to regulate: minister

The British Columbia government has no plans to re-regulate English as a Second Language schools, despite another recent closure that left students who had paid their fees with no school to attend.

The VTC Language School in Vancouver recently “slammed the doors the day after students had paid as much as $100,000 in tuition,” New Westminster MLA and advanced education critic Dawn Black said during advanced education ministry estimates debate yesterday.

She believed the school was one of the largest private language schools in North America, she said. Despite paying their fees, students were left without instruction and the school owed instructors money when it closed, she said. “They're left without any protection, left owing a considerable amount of money from that school in particular.”

In 2004 the province excused private language schools from government regulation when it replaced the Private Post-Secondary Education Commission with the Private Career Training Institution Agency.

Advanced Education minister Moira Stilwell said “it is always of concern to us when a student has a disappointing education experience here in British Columbia,” but offered no plans to fix the situation.

Language schools can register with the PCTIA if they want, she said, but they are not required to do so. “The fact that they are not regulated is consistent with the rest of Canada and Washington and Oregon states, and the government does not intend to regulate them in a way that would be different from regulation in those jurisdictions.”

Black said there is a need for regulation and B.C. is losing many Asian students to places like Australia that regulate ESL schools. Every time a school closes it damages B.C. and Canada's international reputation, she said. “We've seen more and more of these private education, particularly language-training, schools take advantage, quite frankly, of people in British Columbia, charging them high tuition.”

In 2008, former British Columbia Institute of Technology president John Watson reviewed the Private Career Training Institutes Act. "The actions of a small number of institutions are reflecting poorly on the sector as a whole," he found.

Watson strongly recommended regulating English schools to protect the $1-billion industry, but then advanced education minister Murray Coell refused to act, the Tyee reported.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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