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Ryerson moves ahead with Navitas program as Western halts negotiations

By Samreen Maqsood

Despite Western University halting negotiations with Navitas, an organization that helps to increase international enrolment and opportunities for students, Ryerson University will be continuing their partnership. Last summer, Ryerson entered into a 10-year agreement with the company. 

As previously reported by The Eyeopener, Ryerson signed the agreement with Navitas last year and launched Ryerson University International College (RUIC), a program designed to “help international students transition into Canadian university life.” International students who aren’t eligible to apply for Ryerson’s degree programs due to language requirements can apply for RUIC, where they would be enrolled in the pathways program equivalent to first year.

While Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said he could not comment on what happened at Western, Ryerson had several community consultations about it. 

“Before we signed the agreement with Navitas, we invited many community members to meet with members of Navitas just to understand the type of partnership that we wanted to have. The agreement was approved by both the Senate and the Board of Governors,” he said. 

In January, Western University halted their negotiations with Navitas. Western faculty members collectively opposed the partnership with Navitas, stating that they don’t “support the outsourcing of the crucial work of teaching first-year international undergraduates at Western to a private, for-profit international ‘pathway’ college such as Navitas.” Following the opposition, Western’s administration said at a Jan. 15 Senate meeting that they were abandoning further talks with Navitas.

Marianne Larsen, a professor emeritus of the Faculty of Education at Western, is part of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) Navitas Task Force, which was created to research and outline potential problems with the Navitas partnership. She was asked to join the task force given her expertise in international education and previous research on the privatization of higher education institutions. 

“Navitas focuses primarily on its university partnership division as that is its most profitable division,” she said. 

With a group of four other faculty members, the task force researched how effective and necessary pathway programs like Navitas really are. They found that pathways partnerships companies hire their own faculty for teaching positions, where they have “little to no experience teaching international students with developing English proficiency.”  

Larsen had tracked Navitas partnerships on their websites since 2018 and found that the partnerships were in “steady decline.” The company had 42 partnerships in 2018, but only 31 were left as of 2021, Larsen wrote in an article published on the UWOFA website.

Larsen said she questions why there is such a decrease in the number of partnerships with Navitas, wondering if it’s because of problems associated with them.

“Establishing these corporate relationships hurts international students because these students are used as sources of revenue”

The task force said one of the reasons they had for halting the partnership was based on previous Navitas employee reviews on Glassdoor, which said the company was “terrible at working with uni [sic] partners,” and that it was “a company that cared more about making profits than rewarding those who worked for them.”

Other reasons for opposition include the lack of transparency and accountability provided by private pathway programs and colleges. According to Larsen, there was little research available on these pathway programs, meaning Navitas has not provided much information to those partnering with them, making it harder to get information about their profits, operations and student enrolment and graduation numbers. 

Faculty council meetings at Western are held once every two months, where issues of concern are brought up by faculty to university administration, said Larsen. Between spring 2020 and the end of that year, six faculties—Faculty Councils in Arts & Humanities, Education, Music, Science, Social Science and Information & Media Studies—at Western rejected the Navitas partnership.  

“The university and the administration at Western had their spokesperson and they would either speak before me or after me and present the positive side of these partnerships. 95 per cent of the faculty opposed the pathway colleges and the Navitas partnership,” said Larsen.

Ryerson had a similar experience at their Senate meeting in April 2020, where Senate members voiced concerns about the Navitas partnership. In a research document outlining what private pathway colleges are and what they provide, Larsen outlines a meeting where Ryerson Senate members put forward a motion to have more time to discuss the Navitas partnership, but 58 per cent voted in favour of no delay and wanted to vote on the same day.  

In an email to Ryerson’s faculty union, the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA), one RFA member stated that “Ryerson’s Administration orchestrated a flawed proposal to be passed at a late night, virtual senate meeting, with almost no discussion or debate. This process allowed little room for collegial discussion and decision making.”

Larsen said that while Western is “committed to increasing international student numbers,” what they really need to look at is retention, which has to do with student experience. To do this, they have to ensure that they have the support on and off campus for international students, according to Larsen. 

“This doesn’t mean just language support, but also cross-cultural support, academic support, social, psychological and more. Western can continue to offer those to students and increase our work in that area,” she said.

How private colleges and pathways function

At Ryerson, the pathway college is RUIC, which Ryerson calls an “additional pathway to Ryerson for international students.” Those admitted to RUIC complete their first year with the program then enrol in an applicable Ryerson program. The fees are similar to those at Ryerson. Fees for 2020-21 at RUIC are $29,959 for those who meet the English language requirement, and fees for international undergraduate students at Ryerson range from $28,570 and $38,430 depending on the field of study.

According to Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi, the Faculty of Arts and Ted Rogers School of Management are the first participating faculties, with a group of 35 students already admitted to RUIC in January 2021.

The RUIC is required to use Ryerson instructors for all academic courses, but multiple sections from a course form a teaching contract that is separate from Ryerson. According to Lachemi, this has led to an increase in jobs for Ryerson faculty and directors, along with more potential jobs for staff as the program expands.  

“The Navitas partnership complements other efforts at Ryerson to scale up the international students’ share of enrollment at the target level that we want to be at—the provincial level, which is around 15 per cent,” said Lachemi. 

Not everyone at Ryerson sees Navitas as beneficial to the school. According to Janet Rodriguez, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), their main concern with partnerships like Navitas is the privatization of post-secondary education. 

Ian Sakinofsky, the president of the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA), said privatization undermines the quality of education at Ryerson and its ability to maintain high academic standards. Companies like Navitas profit off of international students, while not being held to the same academic, labour and integrity standards that public institutions are held to.

“Establishing these corporate relationships hurts international students because these students are used as sources of revenue. Their priority is the bottom line and not the needs these students will have,” he said. 

When international students are completing their first-year transition at a pathway program, they are not Ryerson University students who have representation through their students’ union and access to other campus supports and services, said Rodriquez. This also includes access to campus services such as Consent Comes First, Academic Accommodations for students living with disabilities, filing complaints through the office of Human Rights Services, student union representation and independent advocacy for appeals. 

CESAR recently launched a campaign to “fight against privatization of our campus.” The goal of the campaign is to provide information and bring awareness to students, faculty and staff about the negative impacts that privatization and outsourcing have on quality of education and labour standards.

According to Rodriguez, privatization affects and complicates the international recruitment process. With organizations like Navitas privatizing the first-year student experience, international students who have major barriers to education—often concerning language—will only be introduced to one student experience under Navitas’ control during their transition year.

If successful, they will be transferred to another “student experience” as a second-year Ryerson student. This leaves transfer students on their own to navigate Ryerson’s processes and services—such as appeals processes, equity complaints or academic accommodations—and creates more work for staff at these services.

Rodriguez said CESAR is calling for transparency, inclusion and equity from the university. There are solutions to help fight against privatization, she said, including holding the administration accountable for how the international recruitment process continues and to ensure international students—who are “most likely young, racialized and isolated,” and are often facing discrimination or microaggressions—have a support system.  

“We need to focus our political energy on making our educational experience fully public again both in funding and accountability,” said Rodriguez. 

Some may consider studying abroad as an escape from the competitive education system or conscription in other countries. For students like Momoko Takizawa, a fourth-year international business management student at Ryerson, increasing international enrolment opens doors for more international students and gaining opportunities.

“Language is the biggest barrier for [students], so having these programs is necessary to accommodate them”

Takizawa came to Canada to seek opportunities that she could not experience in her home country of Japan. This included English education, higher income and experiencing multiculturalism. While she is grateful for coming to Canada, she acknowledges the red flags around studying internationally. 

“I think for most universities, international students are their ‘major customers’ who pay three to five times more than the local students. From the universities’ perspective, it is important for them to maintain a certain quota to maintain whatever they offer as a school,” said Takizawa.

Seojung Bae, a second-year international student in the creative industries program, said pathway colleges are an excellent resource, as they provide language tutoring classes. 

“Language is the biggest barrier for [students], so having these programs is necessary to accommodate them,” she said. 

Western faculty members who were opposed to Navitas continued to raise their concerns at Senate meetings, asking the administration to find out what was going on with the negotiations. Around the end of 2020, there was some “slowing down” in the negotiations and talks of ending the partnership with Navitas, until January when Western decided to stop the negotiations entirely, according to Larsen. 

Larsen said that while the administration did not admit all the reasons why they decided to halt the negotiations, she believes it may have to do with their campaign and the pushback that the faculty was giving to them. 

“Our campaign was based on research and it was clearly articulated. We continued to hammer home the same key points over and over again. And we feel that this was just a great victory of faculty organizing to oppose an instance of potential privatization of the services of the university,” she said. 

No longer having a partnership with Navitas, the UWFOA task force suggested alternatives to recruit and support international students. One of these was the university directly opening their own pathway colleges for international students.  

“There’s no reason why Western can’t do this and continue to do the work that it’s doing to recruit and support the transition of international students into our university programs,” said Larsen.

Western offers an English Language Centre for international students, which operates out of the Faculty of Education. They offer English language training for international students who have conditional admission to Western, as well as non-academic programs for individuals wishing to improve their English language skills.  

As for Ryerson, there is already an international transit program in place, called the Ryerson International University Foundations Program (IUFP), to help international students transition to university in Canada. 

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