Senate queries Navitas potential partnership

A university proposal to partner with private international college Navitas to provide an alternative first-year pathway for some international students garnered further discussion from university Senators at the governing body’s regular meeting Friday.

Senators raised concerns about the proposal, including questions about quality control, privatization, cost/benefit of expanding similar services Western already provides, academic freedom and timing.

Andy Hrymak, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), fielded questions for the 90-minute discussion.

Currently, Western is in conversations with Navitas, a private international college, as a potential way to expand the number of international students on campus, as well as diversify their origin countries and program selection.

International students now make up about 12 per cent of Western’s undergraduate numbers, most of whom come from Asia and enter one of three programs. With an aim to increase that number to 20 per cent, Western hopes to diversify the origin country and program destination.

Under the proposed model, Navitas would deliver support and first-year courses to international students who meet Western’s entrance standards. The courses, curriculum, evaluations and entrance standards would all be approved and overseen by Western. Where those courses would be taught, by whom, and how closely these students would be connected with the university during their first year are all part of the negotiation process.

Navitas would collect the first-year tuition for its cohort of recruited students, but Western would receive tuition for those students eligible to transfer into the remaining years of their degree.

“The overarching principles of any arrangement with Navitas would ensure that Western has full oversight/control of student quality and educational quality – and the proposed metrics would allow us to track quality-related outcomes/expectations,” the discussion document stated.

Western will continue recruiting international students for first-year programs through its existing networks, Hrymak explained. But Navitas would augment those efforts via their diverse recruitment expertise in 70 countries and partnerships with 35 universities, including Simon Fraser University and University of Manitoba.

Senator Sam Trosow, an Information and Media Studies and Law professor, was among several who questioned the rationale of the idea, including whether there can be a guarantee of academic freedom in a partnership with a private school whose faculty are not employed by Western.

“On the academic side – academic freedom, academic oversight – we would never give that up.” Hrymak said, referring to the academic freedom of Western faculty members. “I’ve been an academic for 35 years, an administrator for 20 years. I’ve fought for the rights of academic freedom of colleagues.”

In terms of academic oversight of the international college courses, Hrymak noted that further discussion is required on that aspect of the partnership.

At other universities in partnership with Navitas, international college instructors have compensation packages similar to those of faculty members in the university, Hrymak said.

International students are becoming increasingly important in adding to the diversity, research strengths and tuition revenue they bring to universities, Hrymak said. The addition of more international students would mean an overall increase in undergraduate admissions and not mean fewer opportunities for domestic students.

Asked why the proposal is planned now, Hrymak responded that universities are aggressively competing for the best international students and Western also needs to ramp up its recruitment efforts.

“If not now, when? If not this, then what else? These are the steps we are now coming to in terms of a decision pathway.”

Senator Ken Coley said he sees the potential partnership as just another tool in the competitive landscape for the next international students.

“We risk losing the opportunity to be seen as a destination of choice for international students,” the Faculty of Engineering Dean said. “It’s important we have aspirations to be regarded internationally. We should be international and, frankly, we’re not at the moment. But if other institutions around us get farther ahead of us, it will be harder and harder to make that impact. That, to me, is the single biggest reason for moving fast.”

University administration will continue conversations with Navitas.

Senate is expected to discuss the matter again at its March meeting. Both Senate and the Board of Governors would have to approve any contractual partnership with Navitas.

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Early retirements also mean new hiring

A “large, active recruitment” is underway to fill some university roles before more than 100 staff members are set to retire in April as part of a recent voluntary program offering.

Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources), told Senate that 116 staff members, including 55 Professional and Managerial Association staffers, took the retirement package offered them.

“A large number of them are being replaced at this time,” she said, with an aim that there will be some overlap between staffers leaving as of April 30 and the start dates of newly hired staff.

O’Brien said in December the criteria of the program made 280 staff members eligible for early retirement.

“There is a very large, active recruitment taking place” to fill necessary roles in the next few months, she told Senate.