Often referred to as PCCs, the colleges differ from community colleges due to their private ownership and focus on study areas not traditionally available at public institutions, often in collaboration with industry.
However, they could prove key in solving issues around labour shortages in the country, according to the head of the association representing the providers across Canada.
PCCs are positioning themselves as highly agile, entrepreneurial higher education partners who can fill skills gaps across sectors such as health, domiciliary and palliative care.
“We are a key piece of the puzzle in the education landscape here in Canada”
Stakeholders argue that increased disruption and digitalisation since the pandemic has created new labour market needs that are not being met fast enough by traditional training routes.
While fees can be higher in PPCs than in public colleges, a major attraction for international and domestic students alike are features like smaller class sizes, mandatory placements and faster adaptation to the latest training requirements.
Muraly Srinarayanathas, chief executive officer for Computek College, a PCC in Ontario, spoke of the unique commercial role private colleges play saying, “the PCC space is the right space for me as an entrepreneur and I see the opportunities are growing”.
“We [PCCs] are focused on the employment needs for today, serving the market, and I don’t think that’s going to change. Are we competitors to universities and community colleges? Absolutely not. We are a key piece of the puzzle in the education landscape here in Canada,” Srinarayanathas explained.
Connecting the dots between government, industry and higher education can be a difficult task, but Michael Sangster, chief executive officer of the National Association of Career Colleges, which represents over 450 regulated career colleges across the country, believes that’s what his members do best.
“What would you do differently [in the HE sector]? That’s the framing of the way we think about regulated career colleges and the world of partnerships,” Sangster said.
“We [the NACC and its members] are open to doing business with people. We’re open to buying, building and partnering with just about anybody who gets things done,” said Sangster, reflecting on the level of industry partnerships open to NACC members and its own curriculum development.
Speaking of NACCs own curriculum delivery in healthcare, Sangster highlighted the benefits of students gaining experience in the workplace, saying “we were part of the solution [of the labour shortage], delivering 700 hours of programs, with 400 hours in the classroom and 300 hours of practical work inside of long-term care and hospitals”.
“They [our students] are doing the work, they are ready for work, ready to make a difference.
“NACC has its own curriculum for training personal support workers and during Covid [between Ontario and New Brunswick], we graduated 13,000 people who went to work in long-term care, hospitals and healthcare.”
Srinarayanathas echoed the positive impact careers colleges are having on the healthcare system in Canada, saying “thinking about the hospital sector – we needed [more qualified] people yesterday”.
“They can’t go into these long-term programs, right? So it’s wonderful that many institutions are looking at these micro-credentialing programs.”
“It’s wonderful that many institutions are looking at these micro-credentialing programs”
All PCC’s registered with the Canadian Ministry of Education have now been included in the list of designated learning institutions for accepting international students. However, prospective international students should be aware that the graduates from the majority of private colleges are not eligible for the post-graduation work permit.
Graduates of Alpha College, a private career college which was the focus of recent CBC documentary allegations into the unethical recruitment of Indian students, are ordinarily ineligible for the post-graduation work permit. However a validation partnership of their degree programs by St Lawrence College enabled the college to promise PGWP rights to students.
NACC has been lobbying Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to recognise all approved private colleges for as being eligible for post-study work permits for their graduates.
Speaking as part of The PIE Live North America conference, Sangster said, “We do feel that we play an important part of what we’re doing [in Canada]. We are part of that solution and we need to be part of a conversation.”