Probe slams ‘second-class’ career school oversight

Gaps leave private career training students vulnerable, B.C. Ombudsperson concludes

B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter.

Private career training schools need beefed up oversight and enforcement to better protect students, according to the results of an investigation by B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter.

She’s recommending a student bill or rights and an expanded complaint process after releasing a 180-page report that outlines numerous deficiencies in how private training schools are regulated.

“Gaps in the oversight of private career training institutions leave students vulnerable in a number of ways,” she stated in her report.

The report said the career students to date have had “second class protection” that should be equivalent to what public post-secondary students get.

More than 300 private training institutions sell at least 48,000 students a year on the hope of becoming a pipefitter, commercial diver, hypnotherapist, health care assistant or naturopathic doctor – among numerous other programs that Carter said form a “significant part of our education system.”

About a quarter of courses charge more than $11,000. Most students are women, many are low income and about a fifth of students are international.

The systemic investigation of the industry came in response to repeated criticism about the quality of career training, misleading advertising and an inadequate complaints process, as well as reports of fly-by-night schools that took students money then shut down or went bankrupt.

Carter’s findings back up many allegations.

One complaint probed involved a student who enrolled in a traditional Chinese medicine program and later complained the school misled her into believing it would be recognized.

A since-disbanded oversight agency initially refused to hear her demand for a refund because she didn’t file the complaint within a six-month window, but after Carter’s office began investigating it relented and ordered the school repay her $43,600.

Carter said other otherwise valid complaints were dismissed based on strictly imposed time limits.

Another career school expelled a student on the basis of a complaint made by another student without giving the accused any chance to respond to the allegations.

Carter said students can be left in the dark about problems with a school or program and have few options for redress if they’re affected.

The previous industry-led oversight body – the Private Career Training Institutions Agency – was eliminated a year ago by the provincial government, which promised a new regulatory model run by the advanced education ministry.

The government has introduced legislation and detailed regulations are expected by fall.

“It will create higher quality standards for the sector and establish broader enforcement mechanisms to better protect students,” Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said in an emailed statement.

Carter said in her report the new legislation “unfortunately” appears to address only one of six key recommendations.

NDP advanced education critic Kathy Corrigan said while the new legislation provides power to fine, suspend or close schools, it leaves major holes.

She said there’s no regulation of overseas agents who recruit international students.

“Language schools do not have to register under the act,” Corrigan added. “So there’s going to be no way of managing bad apples in that group that choose not to register.”

The province has placed a heavy emphasis on expanding career training to prepare the labour force for expected growth in resource sectors, such as liquefied natural gas.

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