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Students shocked by sudden closure of English-support service

A special program that coaches students who speak English as an additional language is closing on April 27

By Luyi Xu and Yao Xiao , in Culture Education Feature story , on April 2, 2017

A special program that coaches students who speak English as an additional language is closing on April 27 at the University of British Columbia. To the dismay of many students in the program, they feel unclear about their directions and doubt the school’s transparency.

This program, named Academic English Support, receives $300,000 annually from the provost’s office at UBC. It serves about 400 to 500 students each year, according to different sources.

“I’m really sad about the end, and I really don’t know how can I try to make my English better without the AES program, because I could find nothing like the AES program outside the AES program,” said Camila Moreira, a Brazilian PhD student at UBC’s school of nursing.

The provost’s office closes the program because of its efficiency problem.

“This was a very expensive program that wasn’t giving value for money,” said Hugh Brock, the associate provost for academic innovation.

According to him, the university’s undergraduate writing centre, which is open to all students, can serve almost 10 times as many students as the AES program did for the same amount of money.

Brock said the provost’s office will come up with plans for replacement in April or May. The new program will start in September, but Brock is not sure what exact support it will include.

What’s for sure is students with English as an additional language will not be the only recipients of the new support. The program will be redone to serve the whole campus.

But students who use the program have many concerns. One is the uncertainty of the new program. The other is what will be happening in the interim period. They also have queries about the whole decision-making process.

Questionable decision-making procedure

Students were informed of the closure by an email in February out of the blue.

“We hadn’t been consulted before we received the email. I’m wondering whether it’s appropriate to do that. I thought that our opinions should be listened to in advance,” said Nannan Xu, a PhD student at UBC school of community and regional planning.

The provost’s office consulted students about the new service in a panel discussion in March, but Brock said the provost is not obliged to consult them about the closure of an existing program.

“There’s a saying in English. He who pays the piper calls the tune. It’s the provost’s money. So we get to decide what to do with it,” said Brock.

The email about the closure also didn’t say anything about what would replace it.

“It’s hard to take services away before you have come up with a new plan, but that’s what happened,” said Brock.

Uncertainty of the replacement

As a result, students have no idea whether they will be getting supports similar to those from AES after April.

“I really believe [provost] will do something, but I have no notion what it will be,” said Camila. “We are always involved in doubt.”

Students can look forward to a better program, said Brock.

Currently, the AES operates in the English Language Institute, which is housed with the university’s continuing studies program.

According to provost’s plan for the new program, support for undergraduate students will operate in the Irving K. Barber learning centre. The fourth or fifth floor of Koerner’s library will be reorganized to provide the new program for graduate students.

“In my goal is that, we might not be able to do everything we would like to do this September, but we would certainly do something by September,” said Brock. “Something will be open this September, it’s just I’m not 100 per cent sure what will be open in September.”

There are no plans to provide anything over the summer.

“There is a summer, but I hope people will forgive us that there is a gap during the summer,” said Brock.