Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The sneaky way universities are privatizing teaching

I read  (via George Siemens) with interest a recent article written by Erin Miller called The sneaky way universities are privatizing teaching for Macleans.ca oncampus education magazine - this is a Canadian publication. The article poses interesting questions about the role of "for profit" educational institutions that act as feeder third-level Colleges for Universities. Many Universities and Colleges (like NCI) have concerns about the ability of International students to get through first year in College - especially if it is an English speaking institution, but that English is not the student's first language. What if another College was established which could provide the necessary support to help full fee-paying students through that first difficult year - a private prep college that offers a year of intensive studies with the chance to get into the real university in second year. Here's how it works (from the article):

Fraser International College, which is affiliated with Simon Fraser University, was the first college of its kind. Run by the Australian company Navitas, it offers first year courses in business, computing science, arts and social sciences that are designed for international students who need extra support; the program boasts class sizes under 40 students, additional learning and language support and longer classes. Students who earn the requisite GPA in these courses progress to second year as a regular international student at SFU.

Many Colleges provide excellent support for first year students (NCI is particularly good at this IMHO), in the hope (and expectation) that it will not only help the student get through first year, but also make them ready for second and subsequent years. It strikes me that there is a business opportunity for smaller Colleges in Ireland (I'm thinking Griffith College, Dublin Business School, as well as NCI) to provide this service for our Universities. Is this something to consider, or (as the article title suggests) something to be avoided at all costs? The article does raise some interesting issues such as privatization of education, the quality of the education provided, and the position of Faculty in the feeder College. While the article above mostly discusses Canadian institutions, closer to home Keele University in the UK has such an arrangement with a private company called Study Group International (SGI) who even have a website strikingly similar to the "real" Keele University website

With a review of third-level education on-going in Ireland, I think we should be at least considering an option such as above. Our institutions are chronically under-funded, but a cash-strapped Government cannot provide more funding for third-level - indeed our Government may be forced to provide less funding and re-introduce fees in the future. Providing such a service to International students will/might attract new business to our Colleges, enhance the education experience of students, reduce drop-out rates, enhance the reputation of Ireland as an attractive place for students seeking a "western" education, and provide much needed extra funding for our Colleges. While many people (including me) will have serious concerns about how this would operate, I certainly think it is worth putting on the table and starting a debate on this issue. 

Comments welcome.

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