Friday

NDP grills government over ties to Eminata Group

Published: May 28, 2014

CASSIDY OLIVIER
VANCOUVER DESI


Opposition MLAs grilled Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk on Wednesday over the university designation of a private post-secondary school that has an ongoing matter before the Supreme Court of B.C. whose owner and president have ties to the B.C. Liberal Party.

Advanced education critic David Eby led the charge in Question Period, asking Virk repeatedly why University of Canada West (UCW) has been allowed to retain its university designation, given the well-documented past of its parent company, the bad press it has received over the past two years and its high student loan default rate.

“All of this information has been part of the public record for more than a year,” Eby said, after recounting a story of one student who was degreeless and shouldering a large student loan after UCW closed its Victoria campus in 2011.

“Can the minister explain: has his ministry taken any steps to investigate why this school is allowed to use the word university and investigate the track record of this place?”

It is not the first time that UCW and some of the other for-profit schools owned and operated by the Eminata Group, a large B.C.-based for-profit education company, have been raised in the B.C. legislature.

Two years ago, Harry Bloy, then minister of state for multiculturalism, resigned his post after he admitted to leaking a confidential government email to Randy Cox, the president and CEO of the Eminata Group.

The email had been sent from The Province to then Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto as part of an investigation into student complaints, questionable teaching practices and allegations of misrepresentation at three Eminata schools — including University of Canada West — some of which appeared in claims filed in court.

The investigation also revealed that Eminata’s founder, Peter Chung, was a regular B.C. Liberal donor who had previously operated a computer college in California that had been the subject of a class-action lawsuit in the 1990s

In the final judgment, handed down in 1993, it was alleged that Chung and his companies had committed over 10,000 violations of state business code. He was ordered to pay $12 million to the students.

Chung denied any wrongdoing.

In addition to the Bloy matter and the tens of thousands of dollars in Liberal-party donations, NDP critic Shane Simpson outlined the connection that another “Liberal insider” has with the Eminata Group. Simpson told the legislature that Gwyn Morgan, the former head of Premier Christy Clark’s transition team and recent chair appointee to the Industry Training Authority is “also a financial backer” of the Eminata Group.

According to B.C. Supreme Court documents, Morgan is part of a large group of plaintiffs named in a complicated civil suit against Learningwise Education Inc., which does business as University Canada West, and Vancouver Career College (an Eminata school). According to the claim, Morgan is owed $500,000 by the defendants.

“He gave the company a half-a-million-dollar loan so that they could buy University Canada West,” said Simpson. “Now, in [B.C. Supreme] court documents filed in November, he says they stiffed him for the full amount plus interest.”

Virk responded to the barrage by outlining the recent steps the government has taken to move regulation of private for-profit schools in-house. Last month, as part of the government’s core review process, the board of the Private Career Training Institutions Agency, the regulator of for-profit schools, was dissolved.

Consultation is now underway on how to best draft the legislation to fully dissolve PCTIA and bring regulation under direct control of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

“In British Columbia, we have a very robust system of public and private universities,” Virk told the house. “Where that education quality is compromised, we are committed to ensure that education quality stays high.”

UCW was granted university status in 2004 following an application process to the Degree Quality Assessment Board and approval from then Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond. Its university designation was renewed five years later, in 2009, following another review by the DQAB and approval from Moira Stilwell, then the new Minister of Advanced Education.

It is currently seeking to renew its university designation.

Eby said he can only assume that the government has failed to take a harder stance on UCW as a result of the close relationship it appears to have with the Eminata Group. As further evidence, he noted that Randy Cox paid $5,000 to attend the Liberal government’s cabinet swearing-in ceremony on Jun 7, 2013.

“When there is total inaction in the face of such serious allegations of misconduct, then it is very logical to raise the question, is that inaction related to the close relationship that Eminata has with the Liberal government?” Eby asked in a follow up interview after question period.

Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

colivier@theprovince.com


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