Billeting a cheap and inadequate substitute for proper language instruction
While a senior lecturer in the English department at Cape Breton University, I repeatedly voiced concerns about the need for an English as a Second Language program to help foreign students admitted to CBU with substandard English language skills.
I made these concerns known to the then academic vice-president, Leandre Desjardins, to Dean of Arts Rod Nichols, and to the chair of the English department, Todd Pettigrew. Time and again word came down from the top that there would be no ESL program at CBU.
Now I see that CBU has held opening ceremonies for the lofty-sounding International Centre for English Academic Preparation (Language Centre for Foreign Students Looking for Host Families, Feb. 4). I also see that this program is looking to place foreign students in local homes for the purpose of developing their English.
What CBU appears to be doing here is farming out its obligation to ensure that foreign students acquire a reasonable level of competency in English. Students ought to already possess this level of competency before being admitted but it appears that CBU relies to a large extent on tuition money it generates through standing arrangements with foreign institutions that wish to send large numbers of students here to earn degrees, primarily in business administration.
If a substantial number of these students fail their courses because of poor English skills, the university’s standing arrangement with those institutions could be jeopardized and CBU would lose a lot of money.
Sound far-fetched? In at least one instance, the university’s standing arrangement with a foreign university appears to have been important enough for a 100-level writing course, which consisted of mostly foreign students majoring in business, to be cancelled mid-term and for a tuition reimbursement to be granted because more than half the class was facing the prospect of failing. Has your child ever been offered a tuition reimbursement at the prospect of failing a course?
A lot of people think that universities are provincially owned and operated institutions. They’re not. They’re corporations. As an independent corporate entity, if CBU accepts tuition money from students with substandard English skills, it has an obligation to accommodate them by offering a legitimate ESL program, not a home billeting scheme.
If CBU cannot meet its obligations to those whom it has accepted into its programs, it is unreasonable for it to continue receiving taxpayer support in the form of operating grants from the province – grants which time and again appear to go into maintaining the enormous salaries of small men in big positions.
The erudite-sounding ICEAP is not there for the purpose of helping foreign nationals to see Canadian or Cape Breton culture; it is about refunding a portion of your tax dollars in the form of a base compensation rate for billeting students so that you can offer immersive English language instruction without compensation.