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Would you like a side of co-op with that?

WEB-Fast food co-op-Brian Wallace Flickr

The Private Career Training Institutions Agency (PCTIA) is launching a thorough review of co-op work programs at 29 institutions in BC after finding evidence of at least two cases where students were placed in a fast-food restaurant to fulfil the requirements of their co-op.

The two schools in question, the Royal Canadian Institute of Technology (RCIT) and the Vancouver Institute of Professional Management (VIPM), have both had their registrations cancelled after failing “to meet basic education standards, including standards related to its student contracts and the delivery of co-op education work components of its programs.”

The PCTIA ordered the RCIT closed October 5, 2012, claiming its students had not completed programs within the time periods specified in their contracts and that contract dates had been adjusted without the students’ knowledge.

The PCTIA is the regulatory agency for private career training institutions in BC and a Crown Corporation under the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. It requires private career training institutions with tuition of $1000 or more and over 40 hours of course time to be registered. It also oversees the Student Training Completion Fund (STCF), which, in the case of an institution closure, protects unearned student tuition.

According to the PCTIA, the institutions were given ample time to solve their issues and meet Basic Education Standards as outlined in the Bylaws, but failed to do so.

“If the Regulatory and Compliance Officer notices any non-compliance issues during a site visit, institutions are given an opportunity to address these issues,” spoke Karin Kirkpatrick, Registrar and CEO of PCTIA. “However, if they fail to do so by the set date, PCTIA must make the decision to cancel the institution’s registration in order to protect enrolled and prospective students.”

The main issue, aside from failing to meet basic education standards, surrounds two co-op placements that occurred at VIPM. The PCTIA has confirmed that both students, who were studying health and care management, were placed in fast food restaurants to complete their co-op. Although seemingly unique, Kirkpatrick said that similar types of placements in fast food restaurants have been found in other closures.

For Kirkpatrick, the need for a successful co-op program in BC goes beyond our Canadian borders. Institutions offering co-op programs are particularly attractive to international students interested in gaining Canadian work experience, and therefore must be protected.

“We need to ensure that co-ops are being used for their intended purpose – that is, to promote continuous learning through the integration of classroom and workplace-based learning,” spoke Kirkpatrick. “These reviews are integral for maintaining the high standards of private career training institutions in BC, the result of which will further contribute to the BC economy by being an attractive destination for students to pursue their post-secondary education.”

To ensure that BC’s programs meet current standards, the PCTIA has identified 29 institutions offering co-op programs to be reviewed, most of which offer programs that are business (management) and tourism hospitality related.

“All BC registered private post-secondary institutions that include a co-op component will have their co-op programs reviewed,” outlined Kirkpatrick. “A PCTIA representative will visit these institutions to review student records and compare them with the Bylaws to determine the level of compliance.”

During these visits, students attending co-op programs can also expect to be interviewed. However, SFU Students do not need to worry; the PCTIA will only be reviewing private technical institutions, not nationally accredited university programs.

“It’s disappointing that one or two schools are giving a bad name to BC co-op programs.” said Muriel Klemetski, Director of Work Integrated Learning at SFU. “Our co-op program is modelled after a nationally accredited co-op model. There are very specific guidelines and structure to it, and there are guiding principles and regulations as to what defines a quality co-op work term.”

Since this story has hit the news, Klemetski has been contacted by the PCTI agency for information on SFU, provincial and national co-op standards and best practices.

“I am pleased that the PCTIs are looking to see how they can improve the work term opportunities for their students,” said Klemetski.

In the media release addressing the VIPM closure, the PCTIA made it clear that the welfare of BC students is their primary concern, saying, “We will work closely with other institutions to transition the students who wish to continue their studies to similar programs with as little interruption to their education as possible.”

Kirkpatrick echoed these sentiments in an interview with The Province; “The students are our priority and we will do everything we can to assist them.”

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