UWOFA Statement on Proposed Western University Partnership with Navitas

Why We Oppose a Partnership with Navitas

Western University has been in discussions to forge a partnership with the private education services provider Navitas Ltd.[1] to recruit and educate international students. The proposed deal with this multinational, for-profit company would create new so-called “pathways” for entry to Western for some students from abroad who do not meet our first year entrance standards. The company has partnered with 120 post-secondary institutions in eight countries, including Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) opposes the possible partnership the administration is considering with Navitas. Here’s why.

UWOFA’s opposition is based on our association’s long-held values:

  • Our support for public education
  • Our advocacy for fair labour conditions
  • Our support of quality learning conditions for our students
  • Our support and defense of the academic mission

Pathway colleges like Navitas undermine these core values because they:

  • Privatize functions of the university
  • Rely on outsourced labour – precariously employed non-unionized instructors without academic freedom
  • Treat students as profit-generating commodities
  • Compromise admission requirements and academic standards

What a Partnership with Navitas would Mean for Western

Such a partnership would constitute an outsourcing of Western's obligations to support its international students. By so doing, it would privatize Public Sector Education. Furthermore, by hiring non-unionized instructors to teach first-year credit courses to Navitas students, it would breach UWOFA’s certificate to represent Western faculty.

  • Navitas makes money from the difference between the tuition paid by the students they recruit and the wages they pay to the instructors who teach those students
  • Navitas outsources the work of faculty. They employ contract, non-unionized staff with heavy  workloads teaching on a course-by-course basis
  • Navitas instructors are not protected by faculty collective agreements; they can be paid less, have fewer or no benefits, and do not enjoy the rights of academic freedom (e.g. to teach their classes the way other academics with such collective rights do)
  • Jobs are also taken away from instructors teaching in ‘in-house’ English for Academic Purposes programs (e.g. Western English Language Centre).
  • The lack of rights and academic freedom of Navitas instructors undermines the integrity of academic work in higher education which affects us all.

What does existing research about for profit pathway programs/colleges tell us?

  • There are ongoing concerns about the quality of outsourced programs in the UK and elsewhere. Companies like Navitas rely on student fees for their profits and this creates an incentive to recruit as aggressively as possible. Staff working in private pathway colleges in the UK have reported being pressured to ensure that students pass their programs even if they have not fulfilled the program requirements.
  • Mary Anne Ansell, chair of the accreditation committee of the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes underlined the concerns about private providers, concluding that “admissions criteria and the quality of courses being offered are severely compromised.”
  • The programs allow wealthy international students who normally would not be eligible for admission into an undergraduate program to “jump the queue” by entering the university or college through the private pathway program.

Navitas in Canada

At Simon Fraser University (SFU), Navitas entered an agreement with SFU in 2006, establishing the Fraser International College (FIC). In 2007, Navitas partnered with the University of Manitoba, establishing the International College of Manitoba (ICM).

In these cases, the university lends its ‘brand’ to Navitas for marketing purposes, as well as its curriculum. At SFU, for example, Navitas recruits international students and in return SFU receives 30% of the gross revenue from FIC.

McCartney & Metcalfe  (2018: 206) note in their study of Canadian pathway colleges: “While beneficial for some students, [...] pathway colleges tilt the public university towards an academic model that eschews collegial governance structures, privileges a consumerist vision of education, and relies on contract and precarious academic labor.”[2]. At the University of Manitoba, which has recently renewed its agreement with Navitas, faculty report:

  • No oversight over recruitment practices – the university can’t control numbers or quality;
  • No oversight over promotional practices – Navitas swears it does not promise automatic admission, but has been found to advertise this in their promotional materials;
  • No oversight over Navitas financial practices – they charge exorbitant fees and are flush with cash, but don’t share it with the university, so there's a rich private college in the middle of an austerity-ridden public university;
  • Benefits promised have not materialized in terms of better prepared students – what guarantees do they offer around these results?

This past September the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT) organized a conference focused on the experience of international students in that province. At this “One World” conference, they heard directly from international students that they are often treated like commodities. As CAUT President Brenda Austin-Smith notes: “The extraction model of education followed by these for-profit entities strikes me as redolent of colonialism, extracting value from the desire of international students for quality education, and the dedication of those committed to teaching them.”[3]

Recently four Canadian universities have made the wise decision not to partner with Navitas: the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia, Carleton University and the University of Windsor.  Professional associations such as UWOFA have a role to develop strategies for resisting the increase of corporate influence in higher education. In this respect, UWOFA strongly urges the Western administration to uphold our university’s core values by following their example and rejecting any partnership with Navitas.

For further research on this topic please read "Private Pathway Programs/Colleges: What Does the Reasearch Tell Us?" by Marianne Larsen, Ph.D. a Professor of Critical Policy, Equity and Leadership Studies at Western University . 

 


[1] Other for-profit pathway programs/providers include: Bridge Pathways, Cambridge Education Group, Culture Works, INTO University Partnerships, Kaplan Global Pathways, Kings Education, Shorelight Education, and Study Group International.

[2] McCartney, D., & Metcalfe, A. S. (2018). Corporatization of higher education through internationalization: the emergence of pathway colleges in Canada. Tertiary Education and Management, 24(3), 206–220.