The Dangers of Navitas – Canadian Federation of Students

Since the late 1980s, Canada has progressively shifted from a publicly-funded to a publicly-assisted, system of post-secondary education. For decades, international students have been used as ATMs to cushion budget lines while institutions continue to source easier and more ‘efficient’ methods for revenue.

Enter, Navitas.

Navitas is a growingly popular privatized pathway system that relieves the international student recruitment pressure from universities. Originating from Australia, Navitas was introduced to Canada in 2006 with partnerships at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of Manitoba (UofM). Until recently, no further partnerships were secured until Ryerson University signed a contract in September of 2020.

Read full post here.

Navitas Update

There are a number of updates concerning the proposal that the U of L should contract with Navitas to establish a remedial college for international students in Calgary.

  1. Representatives of Navitas gave a presentation to various employee and governance groups on campus, including the draft proposal to establish the college in Calgary.
  2. Representatives of the ULFA working group met with the Provost and Vice Provost to review the current state of negotiations.
  3. ULFA, the Student Union, and the Graduate Student Association have agreed to form a joint working group to discuss and share research on the proposal.
  4. This joint Pathways working group co-hosted an online townhall for the University Community on the Navitas proposal and the issues it raises on October 28th, 2020 at 1 PM. 
  5. We have been collecting a bibliography on Navitas and Pathways programmes more generally. 

After a brief orientation to Navitas, the rest of this blog discusses these developments.

About Navitas

Navitas is a for-profit Australian company that offers recruitment, support, and other services for Australian, British, and (to a lesser extent) Canadian and American Universities. They recruit students from several countries around the world, but focus particularly on Asia. 

In Canada, Navitas currently offers controversial “Pathway” services to three universities: Simon Fraser University, the University of Manitoba, and Ryerson. “Pathways” services typically involve recruiting foreign students who would otherwise be ineligible for admission to the client universities due to their low GPA, poor English, or otherwise inappropriate credentials. Navitas then provides them with remedial instruction, acculturation and other student supports, and access to client-university-branded first year courses taught by Navitas instructors. 

According to Navitas, approximately 80% of the students they recruit have a GPA below that otherwise required for admission to the client university; approximately 10% have inadequate English language preparation; and 10% require some other kind of upgrading, such as additional credits or prerequisites. Some recruits have a combination of these needs.

An important selling point for Navitas’s colleges is the additional student support the company claims to provide. Since the students they attract are generally weaker than those recruited by the client universities themselves, there is a much greater need for services to provide cultural acclimatisation, instruction in Canadian university expectations, mental health support, etc. In their colleges, Navitas generally agrees to develop these services and support students recruited through these programmes both during their initial remedial and/or first year(s) and make them available on a continuing basis after students make the transition to regular classes at the client university. An important feature of the proposal for Lethbridge, however, is that these supports would be developed in Calgary, while students will presumably transfer to Lethbridge after they complete the Navitas programme.

The Navitas proposal

On October 14, representatives of Navitas met with various employee, governance, and union groups on the Lethbridge campus to discuss their proposal. A copy of the proposal is here.

The basic concept is to establish an “international college” (“Lethbridge International College”) in Calgary on the University of Lethbridge’s Bow Valley College campus. The purpose of this college would be to provide remedial and first-year instruction to students recruited by Navitas in the University of Lethbridge’s name. In addition to this instruction, students would be provided additional help to support their acculturation in Calgary. At the end of the two years, they would exit the programme and be eligible to enter our regular second year classes, which at the U of L are taught primarily in Lethbridge.

The “international college” would be wholly owned by Navitas and run under the direction of a Navitas-employed director (rather than a Dean). Students admitted to the College would be under a Navitas code of conduct rather than the U of L’s. First year courses at the college would be University-of-Lethbridge-branded and developed in collaboration with U of L faculty and departments. The plan appears to call for the intellectual property of the academic staff residing in these courses to be donated to the for-profit company.

The Navitas proposal corresponds to a template they have implemented at various universities over the years in most respects — a template that, as many have pointed out, is itself potentially quite problematic (see below for references and further reading).

In the specific case of the U of L, however, the fact that Navitas also proposes establishing the “college” in Calgary rather than Lethbridge creates additional problems:

  1. Navitas argues that their model improves the support for foreign students at the client university after they enter the mainstream classes in second year. But this will presumably not be true at the U of L: in our case, Navitas will establish its supports in Calgary — a city students will then have to leave in order to join the main cohort in Lethbridge.
  2. An important selling point of the Navitas model is that it acculturates and integrates students into the campus and city before they join the mainstream cohort at the client university. By locating the campus in Calgary, however, Navitas will negate this advantage: students will be integrated into life on a small campus in a big city, and then, after two years, be expected to uproot themselves from their new lives to move to a much bigger campus in a much smaller city. This seems particularly dangerous for the type of vulnerable student Navitas typically recruits.
  3. Because of the potential for disruption created by the move from Calgary to Lethbridge at the end of students’ remedial and first year programme, Lethbridge presumably can expect a much higher attrition rate than Navitas claims to be the case at other universities. Students recruited to Calgary by Navitas for the U of L will face a choice at the end of their second year: give up their apartment, community contacts, and lives in Calgary in order to move to a new campus in a new city… or transfer to Mount Royal or the U of C and avoid that same disruption to their personal lives. The Lethbridge college, in other words, may turn out to be a particularly lucrative (and free) recruiting pool of well-trained and acculturated foreign students for MRU and U of C rather than a major source of revenue to the U of L. The U of C rejected a recent proposal from Navitas after the Faculty Association filed a grievance: this may provide them with the same students without the associated risks.
  4. The Navitas proposal indicates that the client university is to provide space for their college free-of-charge. While at most universities, this would involve an in-kind donation, in the case of the U of L, the Navitas proposal as written would appear to require us to rent additional space for the company on our Calgary campus from Bow Valley College even while we have space freely available at the Lethbridge campus. We have been told, however, that the U of L will not agree to this in the final agreement.
  5. Navitas International Colleges normally help the local economy by bringing in additional students, who then require services, housing, and so on from local businesses and landlords. In this case, however, Lethbridge businesses will receive no benefit from the students brought to Canada in the U of L’s name for at least the first two years — or ever should large numbers of these students decide to transfer to MRU or U of C after they finish the Navitas programme.

As far as we can tell, this will be the first time that Navitas will establish a college of this type away from the client’s main campus. It will also be the first time, again, as far as we can tell, that they have contracted with a client whose main campus is found in a city of fewer than 200,000 or that contains a single university. All other other examples we know of are in larger urban areas and within a short drive of several other universities whose graduate students can serve as a source of precarious labour. 

By setting the college in Calgary (a city that fits their normal template) rather than Lethbridge (a city that doesn’t), in other words, Navitas is transferring main risk for this endeavour to the University of Lethbridge. Since Navitas generates its profit on the first two years, and they have a lot of previous experience in setting up such colleges in cities of 1,000,000+, they can presumably be reasonably sure that establishing a college in Calgary for Lethbridge will work for them. What is less known, however, is how the next stage will work for the U of L — when we are supposed to collect tuition from the students who transfer from the Navitas college to our main campus, 250 km away. When asked for projections for the U of L’s revenue at year three and year five of the proposed ten year agreement, Navitas representatives indicated that they had not made any models. 

Although a number of companies operate similar programmes in Canada and elsewhere, the University of Lethbridge did not put out a tender for this service. The proposal came about instead via conversations between the U of L’s President and a former colleague from the U of A, a former University president who now works for Navitas. Indeed President-to-President marketing appears to be a focus of Navitas. The CEO of Navitas Canada and its Senior Academic advisor are both former University Presidents. The current Navitas CEO was also Provost at the University of Manitoba when Navitas contracted with it to establish its international college in Winnipeg, while the COO is a former director of the same Navitas-run college.

ULFA meeting with Provost and Vice Provost

On October 20th, representatives from ULFA held our second monthly meeting with the Provost and Vice Provost regarding Navitas. This provided an opportunity to follow-up on the October 15th presentation and discuss the results of our own research into Navitas and their business model.

In the course of a frank and far-ranging discussion, the Provost’s office indicated that

  • Informal discussions with Navitas had begun between the President and the CEO of Navitas before the COVID crisis, although only in the broadest terms.
  • While the Navitas presentation contained a number of very specific details — such as the fact that the University of Lethbridge would be required to provide space to Navitas on its Calgary Campus free of charge — these were written by Navitas and did not represent the result of formal negotiations between the two sides; in the specific case of paying rent, indeed, we were told that this would not be a feature of any final agreement.
  • Programme decisions would be presented to GFC for approval.

For its part, ULFA indicated that any Pathways college at the University of Lethbridge would be required to operate under the provisions of the Collective Agreement and the Post Secondary Learning Act. It also presented research suggesting that the Navitas proposal for the University of Lethbridge represents a particularly one-sided arrangement in terms of risk versus profitability, even when compared to what we can discover about similar agreements at other universities. Finally it indicated broader concerns about the Pathways model and about the lack of tendering involved this process.

Both sides agreed that they share a common interest in ensuring that any arrangement with a vendor such as Navitas should conform to the highest standards of transparency and good governance and that any agreement should protect the interests of the University, its students, and faculty.

ULFA, ULSU and GSA agree to form a joint Pathways Working Group

Representatives of University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA), the University of Lethbridge Student Union (ULSU), and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) have agreed to establish a joint committee for research and discussion of the Navitas proposal. In addition to ensuring that a variety of perspectives are represented at the table, this agreement will allow each organisation to draw on resources available to its partners, such as CAUT and the Canadian Federation of Students.

Townhall October 28th, 2020, 1pm

The first joint activity of the new Working Group was a townhall for members of the University community which was held on October 28th, 2020 from 1-3 PM.

Slides from that presentation are available here.

Find out more… with references!

A recurring theme in reports about Navitas’ strategies for securing partnerships is the secrecy and speed with which negotiations are carried out. The joint working group has been told explicitly that at the University of Lethbridge negotiations are at an early stage, that any agreement will go through GFC, and that no agreement is contemplated for this year. However, recent comments by members of the administration and the appearance of a relatively complete proposal document from Navitas may indicate preparations for a faster timeline.

A second theme involves claiming that criticism involves “hearsay” or “excitement” on social media rather than facts. In our case, however, a concrete proposal has been made and Navitas officials and members of the administration have made additional claims that can be tested and examined. In addition, there are a number of faculty members and students on campus who have direct experience with similar initiatives by this same company at other universities. The joint working group is in the process of collecting a range of materials to assist members in assessing this proposal, including published studies, mainstream media assessments, statements and research by other organisations, and assessments by organisations such as CAUT and The Canadian Federation of Students.  These suggest at the very least that any final partnership agreement needs to be subject to dedicated consultation and full bicameral approval.  

See the following for more information on Navitas and Pathways programmes more generally.

Bibliography

Information on Navitas

Falvo, Nick.  (2010).  The Pathways College Concept.  AcademicMatters.ca
Navitas website: What we do

Marketline profile for Navitas
Navitas Colleges in Canada:
Fraser International College

International College of Manitoba
Ryerson University International College

Peer Reviewed Analysis of Pathway Colleges (Recommended Reading)

McCartney, Dal M. and Amy Scott Metcalfe.  (2018).  Corporatization of higher education through internationalization: the emergence of pathway colleges in Canada.  Tertiary Education and Management 24(3):206-220  https://doi.org/10.1080/13583883.2018.1439997 

Selected Background Materials

Beck, K. (2012). Globalization/s: Reproduction and resistance in the internationalization of higher education. Canadian Journal of Education, 35(3), 133–148.

Brewer, A., & Zhao, J. (2010). The impact of a pathway college on reputation and brand awareness for its affiliated university in Sydney. International Journal of Educational Management, 24(1), 34–47.

Guo, Y., & Guo, S. (2017). Internationalization of Canadian higher education: Discrepancies between policies and international student experiences. Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 851–868.

Kim, T. (2017). Academic mobility, transnational identity capital, and stratification under conditions of academic capitalism. Higher Education, 73(6), 981–997. 

Levin, J. S. (2017). Community colleges and new universities under neoliberal pressures. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Maschmann, E. (2018). At What Cost? A Study of Canada’s First Public-Private Post-Secondary Matriculation Pathways Partnership MA Thesis, University of British Columbia.

Newspaper Articles & Commentaries

Goveas, Ashley (Jan 28, 2020) “Western looking at risky for-profit teaching program” The Gazette  

Larsen, Leif.  (Dec 10, 2012)  “Private Manitoba college misleading students, some say”  CBC

MacKinnon, Mark and Rod Mickleburgh (Oct 15, 2010) “Chinese students pay dearly for Canadian ‘education’” The Globe and Mail.

McClure, Matt (Nov 10, 2013) “UofC Considers hiring private firm to recruit foreign students” The Calgary Herald.

Miller, Erin. (Feb 19, 2020) “The sneaky way universities are privatizing teaching: UWindsor rejects deal with for-profit company to teach international students; UManitoba criticized for similar program” MacLeans.

PerthNow (Dec 4, 2011) “Carleton University ends talks with Navitas” PerthNow

Richert, Quinn. (Jan 7, 2013) “Private college on UofM campus criticised by former students, faculty” The Manitoban.

Rivers, Heather. (Jan 30, 2020) “Western University in talks with private company to educate some would-be students from abroad” The London Free Press.

Van Brenk, Debora (Feb 19, 2020) “Senate queries Navitas potential partnership” Western News.

Yogesh, B., & Neatby, S. (Oct 12, 2017) “B.C. students allege overcharging, fraud by international recruiters.” The Vancouver Sun

Faculty Association & University Documents

Carlton University’s Provost Rejects Navitas (2011; pdf of powerpoints)

University of Northern British Columbia Faculty Association (2017) “International students and International College of Manitoba (Navitas): The University of Manitoba Experience (scroll to page 4)

University of Western Ontario Faculty Association Statement (2020) “Why we oppose a Partnership with Navitas” 

University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (2020) Research on Pathway Colleges focusing on Navitas.

National and Sector Organizations

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2019)  President’s message / Internationalization and academic freedom.

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2010). Outsourcing deals face stiff opposition at Windsor, Dalhousie

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2010). Probe questions international recruitment

Canadian Federation of Students, (2010) Motion from 57th Semi-Annual General Meeting:

 

2010/05:084 MOTION

Local 68/Local 93

Whereas Navitas is a private, for-profit Australian company that recruits and teaches international students who have not passed TOEFL exams and who often need more assistance in meeting entrance requirements of universities and colleges in Canada; and
Whereas Navitas currently operates at the University of Manitoba, where there have been problems of facility usage and in some cases has actually bumped University of Manitoba classes so that Navitas classes can use the best facilities; and
Whereas the faculty association at Dalhousie University was highly critical of a proposed partnership with Navitas at their school; and
Whereas a partnership at the University of Windsor’s business school with another international recruitment agency, Study Group International, was rejected in February; and
Whereas international companies that offer education to international students at public Canadian post-secondary institutions often set their own admissions criteria and offer direct admittance into a college or university, raising concerning ethical questions about the privatisation of post-secondary education; therefore
Be it resolved that the practice of private, for-profit education companies offering instruction through public post-secondary education institutions be condemned; and
Be it further resolved that the Government of Canada and provincial governments be called upon to prohibit the operation of these private education companies within public post-secondary institutions; and
Be it further resolved that member locals be encouraged to oppose partnerships that are presented on campus with for-profit international education recruiting and training companies such as Navitas, Kaplan and Study Group International. 

CARRIED

 

ULFA and Administration meet to discuss Internationalization and Pathways

Background

The University of Lethbridge Administration have recently indicated that they have discussed the possibility of a partnership with Navitas, an Australian educational services company, to improve the recruitment and retention of international students at the University of Lethbridge. 

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) has created a working group to

    • research the issues involved in working with companies such as Navitas and provide this information to its membership, 
    • ensure that Members’ voices are heard both as individuals and through collegial governance organs such as GFC, Faculty, and Advisory Councils,
    • protect Members’ academic freedom and other rights under the collective agreement, and
    • ensure that any agreement, should one be concluded, is compatible with the University’s core budgetary values:
        • Our people define our University and are our greatest strength
        • High quality is central to all that we do
        • Access to our University is a foundational value

The rest of this post describes the company Navitas, how “pathways” programmes work, how they are playing out on other Canadian campuses, and some things to pay attention to this year in the event discussion with Navitas or similar companies continue.

About Navitas

Navitas has contracted with a number of Universities in Canada to provide similar services in recent years, including Ryerson, Simon Fraser, and the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba. Other universities, including UBC, and the University of Calgary are known to have considered working with the company before deciding not to. Universities currently in discussions with Navitas appear to include the University of Lethbridge, Memorial University, and Western.

The form these services take vary from country to country and university to university. In broad terms, however, Navitas offers what they describe as “Pathway” programmes:

Many students who study internationally are faced with the challenges of English as a second language, of adapting to a new culture, and a different education system. The pathway program works by recruiting students to our own colleges on university campuses. We provide the unique services that international students particularly need to succeed – small class sizes, support with English language, extra tuition time, personalised learning, assistance in settling in to a new country and culture, extensive student welfare, and sophisticated processes to identify and support at-risk learners.

A Navitas pathway program is the equivalent to the first year of a bachelor degree at one of our partner universities. Having completed a program with us, students typically enter mainstream studies at our partner university in their second year and complete their undergraduate or graduate degrees. We are extremely proud of the outcomes we achieve for our learners – 90% of Navitas students who complete the pathway program transition to the respective partner university.

Pathway programs are located on the partner university’s campus. Students use libraries, computer laboratories, recreation facilities, common areas and other general student services as well as having access to student clubs and societies. This enhances the student experience and aids retention as students integrate into campus life in that first year, making the move to second year much easier.

Problems with the Pathways approach

As the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) has pointed out, this approach can raises a number of concerns:

Pathway colleges like Navitas undermine [Western’s] core values because they

    • Privatize functions of the university
    • Rely on outsourced labour – precariously employed non-unionized instructors without academic freedom
    • Treat students as profit-generating commodities
    • Compromise admission requirements and academic standards

Discussing the specific details of the plan proposed at Western, they added

Such a partnership would constitute an outsourcing of Western’s obligations to support its international students. By so doing, it would privatize Public Sector Education. Furthermore, by hiring non-unionized instructors to teach first-year credit courses to Navitas students, it would breach UWOFA’s certificate to represent Western faculty.

    • Navitas makes money from the difference between the tuition paid by the students they recruit and the wages they pay to the instructors who teach those students
    • Navitas outsources the work of faculty. They employ contract, non-unionized staff with heavy workloads teaching on a course-by-course basis
    • Navitas instructors are not protected by faculty collective agreements; they can be paid less, have fewer or no benefits, and do not enjoy the rights of academic freedom (e.g. to teach their classes the way other academics with such collective rights do)
    • Jobs are also taken away from instructors teaching in ‘in-house’ English for Academic Purposes programs (e.g. Western English Language Centre)
    • The lack of rights and academic freedom of Navitas instructors undermines the integrity of academic work in higher education which affects us all.

And finally, on the basis of their research on Navitas, UWOFA mention three main international concerns about for-profit pathway programmes:

    • There are ongoing concerns about the quality of outsourced programs in the UK and elsewhere. Companies like Navitas rely on student fees for their profits and this creates an incentive to recruit as aggressively as possible. Staff working in private pathway colleges in the UK have reported being pressured to ensure that students pass their programs even if they have not fulfilled the program requirements.
    • Mary Anne Ansell, chair of the accreditation committee of the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes underlined the concerns about private providers, concluding that “admissions criteria and the quality of courses being offered are severely compromised.”
    • The programs allow wealthy international students who normally would not be eligible for admission into an undergraduate program to “jump the queue” by entering the university or college through the private pathway program.

Implications for the U of L

These international issues are particularly concerning for the University of Lethbridge given that they would seem to contradict directly all three of the main budgetary values established by the U of L’s Board of Governors:

    • Our people define our University and are our greatest strength
    • High quality is central to all that we do
    • Access to our University is a foundational value

Having said this, however, it is important to note that ULFA’s ongoing research suggests that the pathways programme can take different forms at different universities. At Ryerson, for example, instructors in the recently established pathways programme appear to be unionised faculty members who are protected by the Ryerson collective agreement. At the U of L, we are told, no specific partnership proposal is on the table and no decisions have been made about the form such a partnership would take, so it is possible that a programme congruent with our values could be designed.

ULFA’s meetings with the Provost’s Office

As part of our work on this file, ULFA met with the Provost’s office twice in September on September 3rd and September 28th. 

At the first meeting, initiated by the Provost’s office, ULFA was told of the discussions, their purpose, and (very preliminary) status. After this meeting ULFA assembled a working group to collect information and research on Navitas, the experience of faculty at other Canadian and International universities with their programmes, and the advice of organisations such as CAUT and CAFA. 

The second meeting, held at the request of ULFA’s Working Group, confirmed that discussions remain in a very early stage with no decisions having been taken on the form of the proposed partnership, should it go ahead. At this meeting the Provost and Vice Provost also confirmed both that they intend to consult widely on campus as part of a transparent and comprehensive process and that individual Faculty Members, ULFA, and collegial governance organisations such as GFC, Faculty Councils and Departments will have a meaningful role to play in the development of any proposal. As a result of this second meeting, ULFA and the Provosts’ office have agreed to establish regular meetings — initially on a monthly basis, but with an option to meet more frequently if required — to discuss the status and development of any Pathway programme at the U of L.

Next steps

Foreign students are an important source of revenue for Universities in Canada and Canadian Universities appear to be attractive to foreign students. As Alex Usher has suggested, however, the attraction may reside primarily in the quality of instruction by our faculty, perhaps particularly in comparison to countries with poorer records such as Australia, the US, and the UK — places where Pathways programmes are better established. The experiences of other faculty associations across the country suggest that it is important that all ULFA Members at the U of L pay close attention to the development of any Pathways programme at the U of L and work to ensure that any such programme, should one be implemented at this university, fits our core values.

Interested?

If you are interested in this issue, please contact ULFA’s administrative officer, Eva Cool (admin@ulfa.ca). Potential avenues for working on the issue include

    • Joining our working group (research, communications, leadership on the issue)
    • Organising members and leading discussion within governance organisations (GFC, Faculty Councils, Departments, Chairs and Coordinators committees)
    • Participating in town halls, mailing lists, and other internal activities
    • Writing about issues involved in international education for the broader public.