Vancouver University Worldwide ordered to stop granting degrees
Raises questions about monitoring online universities
Erin Millar, Macleans.ca | May 11, 2007 | 17:11:25
Last week’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that ordered Vancouver University Worldwide to stop granting degrees in B.C. brings up an interesting question: where exactly is your university located? With the rise of distance education made possible by the Internet, you can take an array of classes from just about anywhere, from Nunavut to the Queen Charlotte Islands. While correspondence courses can be very convenient, the lack of physical campuses of some institutions is making it difficult to pin down just what jurisdiction a university is located in, and what laws apply.
That is just the problem that has fueled a 15-year dispute between B.C. and Vancouver University Worldwide. B.C. says that the private university, with offices on Beatty Street in Vancouver, is breaking the province's Degree Authorization Act by offering degrees without permission. But the university’s president Raymond Rodgers says that the school does not operate in B.C.
“We don’t conduct degree programs in B.C.,” Rodgers said. “The degrees are printed in other jurisdictions and signed outside of B.C. and have been for some time.” Degree ceremonies also take place outside the province.
But Judge Stephen Kelleher disagreed. He ruled that because some degrees are mailed out from within the province, the university is indeed in violation of the act. “If a degree is posted in B.C.,” he wrote in his ruling, “I am satisfied that it amounts to conferring a degree in B.C. although the recipient may be elsewhere.”
Dr. Virginia Hatchette expressed her concern about monitoring private institutions operating online in a report prepared for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada last year. She notes, “Currently no provincial or territorial degree-granting legislation specifically addresses e-learning.”
Hatchette argues that there is need for specific legislation because of the gap been public perception and law. “The perception of the general public is likely to be that if an organization is advertising in the jurisdiction, then the organization is legally authorized to operate in the jurisdiction.”
However, often that is not the case. Vancouver University Worldwide was first warned not to advertise its degrees in B.C. 15 years ago when the government took issue with the institution using the word “university” in its advertising. Yet, even after the latest ruling, Rodgers says that there will be no change to the university’s programs.
According to its website, the only degrees that Vancouver University Worldwide offers in B.C. are in theology, which is exempted from the Degree Authorization Act.
What constitutes operating within a given jurisdiction is very unclear in Canada and has made it difficult for B.C. to stop the university from disregarding the law.
In the U.S. any address, physical site, electronic device, or telephone number within a jurisdiction is enough to bring that institution under that jurisdiction’s law. Also, a school-organized meeting of two or more students, a computer server hosting web pages, advertising, or an administrator operating in the jurisdiction can also determine its location.
However, because the same law doesn’t exist in Canada, provinces like B.C. have become targets for illegal educational institutions.
Hatchette also warns of “degree mills” in her report, which she describes as “fraudulent business ventures that sell degrees or have either no academic requirements or have standards that are too low to warrant a degree credential.”
“The result is a plethora of certificates and credentials being awarded to individuals who presume, or are led to believe, that they are transferable to further learning,” Hatchette wrote.
Quality assurance for institutions appearing to operate in Canada has become of mounting concern as a number of school closures have led to China and India warning students of studying in Canada.
Last month the Times of India reported, “A group of Indian students who traveled across the globe in pursuit of their MBA dreams are living their worst nightmare.” The article pointed to the recent closing of Lansbridge University in B.C. as a grim reminder to be careful about Canada’s post-secondary system. The school was ordered to close by the government after an investigation ruled that Lansbridge was in violation of the Degree Authorization Act. Approximately 300 students, mostly from India and China, were left without credentials after spending thousands of dollars to study in Canada.
“We are in shock,” an unnamed Lansbridge student told the Times of India. “We never imagined that something like this could happen in the developed world too.”
China also released a statement late last year entitled, “Don’t Apply to Canadian Private Schools Blindly.”
This negative attention comes as the Conservative government pledged new funding in their 2007 budget for a recruitment campaign to attract international students to study in Canada.
Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. says that more needs to be done to prevent universities from operating illegally. “We need something to ensure that everyone is on the same page in the country,” he said. “The rest of the world has just come to trust us that our system works. And it doesn’t.”
The Vancouver University Worldwide case is the fourth time recently that the B.C. government has taken action against private universities. In addition to the Lansbridge closing, Kingston College and Upper Iowa University were also shut down.
Rutherford University was also warned not to advertise degrees in B.C. last year. That case is now before the Attorney General.