Private Canadian education firm buys community college and expands existing links with China

yvr.jpgAs recently reported in the Vancouver Sun, a large Vancouver-based private company called CIBT Education Group has bought Sprott Shaw Community College – the oldest and largest private community college in Western Canada. Established in 1994, CIBT Education Group runs a number of post-secondary schools in China, providing both academic programmes and vocational training.

Sprott Shaw Community College, originating in Vancouver, has grown over the last years to include 20 locations across the province of British Columbia, training 4, 500 students each year with the aim of preparing them for successful employment. CIBT Education Group intends to export Sprott Shaw Community College’s vocational programmes to China. According to Toby Chu, Vice Chairman, President and CEO of CIBT, “over 250 million workers from rural China are gradually migrating to the coastal and urban cities of China in search of better paying jobs to improve their standard of living. These workers will require extensive vocational re-training or career enhancing skills in order to secure better paying jobs in China’s modern and rapidly advancing economy. With 104 years of operating experience and over 140 additional career, vocational and degree granting programs available to us, this expansive network of supporting infrastructure, teaching resources, knowledge and experience provided in this transaction with Sprott-Shaw Community College adds tremendous value to CIBT Schools in China and our overall business.” CIBT managers based in China will ‘repackage’ Sprott Shaw’s programmes for a specifically Chinese market.

cibtsumm.jpgAs has been observed before on GlobalHigherEd, China offers a huge potential market in higher and further education. CIBT Education Groups notes in a recent Executive Summary that with 320 million students in 1.35 million schools China has the largest education system in the world. However, it is unable to meet the demand in higher education (with only 1.3% of the population currently enrolled in university compared to 5.4% of the population in the US). According to CIBT, an additional 20 million people are seeking vocational training.

At the same time as providing educational places in China, the programmes proposed by CIBT will also initiate flows of Chinese students into the Canadian education system. CIBT runs four-year courses, of which students spend two years ‘overseas’. This new initiative will direct students to British Columbia for two years of their four-year course. The practice of sending Chinese students to overseas institutions is already established by CIBT. The company has ‘credit transfer agreements’ with universities in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the UK, which enable Chinese students to transfer credits earned at CIBT institutions in China to these overseas ‘academic partners’ – thereby receiving a valuable overseas degree at the end of their course.

This is a further example of Canadian firms seeking to ‘do business’ in China. In 2007, CIBT was named in a report by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada as a case study of Canadian companies that have developed successful ‘Asian strategies’. CIBT has also established partnerships with large private education providers in the US, such as Western International University and WyoTech. In the next two years, the Group plans to build 40 new Education Centres in 40 different Chinese cities located within existing colleges or universities. It also has plans to acquire other state-owned colleges and to transform them into ‘private business colleges’.

Johanna Waters

Offshore schools as ‘feeders’ to the Canadian higher education system

bcmoe.jpgIn 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.

Johanna Waters

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.