by RM Kennedy
The growing trend of licensing curriculum to private career colleges is threatening the health of Ontario’s public college system and the security of unionized, full-time faculty jobs.
Ontario’s Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) have a new formula for privatizing college education. It goes like this. A public college (usually from a more remote area in the province) enters into a revenue generating curriculum licensing agreement with a for-profit, private institution. The private institution then delivers the public college’s programs to international students in urban areas at inflated tuition rates. The public college gets undisclosed revenue from the private college and in exchange the private institution gets to use the curriculum, institutional recognition, and branding of the public college. Scattered across industrial parks and strip malls in the GTA suburbs, at least 6 of Ontario’s public colleges, including Lambton, Northern, St. Lawrence, St. Clair, Canadore, and Cambrian, have paired with private career colleges to set up second-tier shops.
A case study illustrates the issues at stake in such a relationship.
Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology is a publicly funded college located in North Bay, Ontario with approximately 3000 students and 110 full-time, unionized faculty. Canadore has signed an agreement with Stanford International, a registered, for-profit private career college with locations in Mississauga and Scarborough (including at 930 Progress Ave., just steps from Centennial College.)
Operating as Canadore@Stanford, Stanford offers 15 Canadore programs to international students ranging from Mobile App Development to Early Childhood Education to Supply Chain Management. Program course outlines are branded with the Canadore logo and students take regular general education electives and register through the Canadore website. The diploma they ultimately receive will be printed and sealed under Canadore’s name. But are they really getting a public college education?
There are many reasons why we need to be concerned about this growing trend.
CAAT programs were developed using public money and the benefits from international student enrolment should flow back into the public college system. Instead, these shops open up next to legitimate public colleges like Centennial, compete with them, and siphon resources, reputational credibility, time and students away from the public system.
Additionally, when these private colleges use the public college’s brand, it consists of something close to advertising fraud. While these arrangements might provide short-term financial benefits through contract fees to Ontario’s smaller colleges, it will do incalculable reputational damage to the colleges in the long run. Privately run, second-tier colleges lack the experienced full-time faculty, student diversity, program breadth, recreational facilities, libraries, student services, and sheer complexity that make public colleges such a vibrant learning environment. Indeed, students enrolled in these shops are often required to sign a waiver stating that they understand that they will not have access to the same facilities and student services as students in the mother college.
Licensing—and even outright selling—curriculum to private colleges also creates an innovation chill, leading faculty to become more reluctant to share their cutting-edge applied research and curricular designs for fear that they will literally be sold out from under them.
Consider that Canadore recently closed their Mobile App program in North Bay, laid off the full-time faculty, but subsequently licensed the curriculum to Stanford and continues to advertise it as a Canadore program. In practice, Canadore still has a Mobile App program; it is just not being staffed by Canadore faculty. Unsurprisingly, Stanford faculty are not unionized.
In another example, I recently spoke with a full-time faculty at Cambrian College who had learned that her video lectures, which she had carefully crafted and made available to her own students via the learning management system were being screened in classrooms at the private college, Hanson, without either her consent or knowledge.
The public colleges insist they can do this because they argue that they own faculty intellectual property (IP). Faculty at Ontario’s public colleges need to vigorously contest this assertion and continue to fight for IP rights over our own creations. The legal basis for faculty ownership of our IP flows from what is known as the “academic exception” to copyright law, which allows academics in higher education—not our employers—to own the fruits of our research and creativity. This provides the foundation for free and innovative societies.
Without such protection, every time we put another video, lecture or article in that centralized database most colleges are developing, we are literally giving away our own jobs.
Ultimately, the delivery of publicly-funded and developed curriculum by for-profit private colleges does a profound disservice not only to faculty but to students who believe that they are truly receiving a Canadore, Lambton or Cambrian education. Despite the veneer, they never experience the benefits of a real public education.
The solution to the colleges’ economic woes is not outsourcing for short-term gain. The solution lies with increasing public funding, and making sure that all resources get directed where they belong: into quality teaching and learning.
Contracting out won’t fix the problem. It will only make it worse.
RM Kennedy is 1st Vice President of OPSEU Local 558 at Centennial College and Chair of the CAAT-Academic Divisional Executive representing unionized faculty at Ontario’s 24 colleges.