In Canada, one of the most innovative internationalising initiatives with direct implications for the international higher education sector has involved the establishment of certified ‘offshore schools’. The last ten years has seen the development and consolidation of an Offshore School Certification Program, established by the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Education. This programme began in 1997 with the Dalian Maple Leaf International School. This was initially set up as a pilot project with only a small number of students. Today the school has approximately 2,300 students and there are ten BC certified offshore schools; nine in China and one in Egypt. Suggestive of the ‘rescaling’ of national education, the Offshore School Certification Program enables students to receive a BC Ministry of Education certified education without leaving home. The programme is taught in English by BC-certified teachers, and its graduates are issued with a British Columbia High School Graduation Certificate.
Public-private-partnerships are increasingly important in international education. Reflecting this, there are three key players in the offshore school program: the Ministry of Education, the offshore school itself, and the so-called ‘consultant’ or ‘service provider’. Each has a different role to play in the process. The BC Ministry’s role is to establish certification requirements, conduct inspections of schools requesting certification, certify their educational programmes, distribute and mark Grade 12 provincial exams and issue transcripts and diplomas to graduates. The school’s role is to establish and operate a programme that meets the criteria of the BC Ministry of Education, provide for annual on-site inspections by the Ministry and pay all the programme and inspection fees. The consultant’s role includes administrative guidance to the overseas school, development of policy and curricular, facilitating the purchase of educational materials and the recruitment of teachers from Canada. The consultant will also give the school direct guidance in completing required Ministry documents. The Ministry carries a list of ‘approved’ private consultants. These private consultants can include what is called a ‘public school board company’. As a representative (J.B.) of the Ministry told me during an interview in Victoria, BC:
The school act was changed… [in 2002] to enable a school district to establish a company. There are six or seven in BC that have done that. They’ve established a for-profit company, but it’s a unique company where the profits can only flow to the school district. So under that company they could approach schools in China saying ‘we would be able to offer this service, this is what it would cost you’…And they formulate their own contract between [themselves and] the schools.
Each prospective school undergoes a certification process, involving an application, an informal visit to establish ‘candidate status’ (at a cost to the school CA$2,500), followed by a formal inspection by a larger team of people to establish ‘certification status’ (costing CA$3,500 in addition to all the inspection costs). The school must also pay the Ministry for annual inspections required to maintain its certification status as well as an additional $350 per student per year enrolled in the BC programme.
Significantly for higher education, British Columbia and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) signed an Agreement for Canada-British Columbia Cooperation on Immigration on April 5, 2004. This operates as an insurance policy for CIC, addressing the problem of fraudulent applications for study permits at higher education level, involving false reporting of English and academic ability and financial circumstances. The province will write a letter on behalf of students in its ‘overseas program’, which will then become part of their student visa application. As J. B. described it:
We’ve got a win-win. I can give you [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] more reliable indicators in each of those areas at no cost to your embassy staff [and] no time – they don’t have to check a thing. Because we’ve worked with these kids for three years, with BC certified teachers, I will be able to certify for you as BC Minister for Education more reliable indicators than you’ve ever been able to get…
The Ministry is confident that it can guarantee not only the academic aptitude of its overseas students but also their English ability and their ‘financial commitment’ to paying (what can amount to substantial) international tuition fees. Consequently, these offshore schools serve as direct feeders into the Canadian HE system. In 2002, the Dalian Maple Leaf International School graduated 101 students and 96 percent were successful in obtaining a visa to study in Canada, compared to 55 percent of applications for China as a whole. The latest available data for 2004 put the figure for acceptance rates for Dalian Maple Leaf International School graduates at 100 percent, while the size of the graduating class has clearly grown.
One of the clear intentions of this program is to ‘school’ Chinese students in a Canadian education at an early age, after which the ‘natural’ choice for a higher education destination becomes Canada. As this suggests, the globalisation of higher education is tied, in complex ways, to the internationalisation of primary and secondary levels of education.
Editor’s note: the blogosphere has a variety of entries and photographs, primarily from young contract teachers, regarding Dalian Maple Leaf International School. Some samples can be accessed here, here, and here.