Institute guarantees educational satisfaction

With the demand to fill IT positions remaining high in Canada, students face a new challenge: finding the right institution that will provide them with the necessary training to find a job. As a result, more schools are offering IT programs – condensed courses designed to get workers out into the field quickly. But some question whether their standards are high enough.

The Toronto-based Institute for Computer Studies offers six-month diplomas in programming and Web based technology, and is registered under the Private Vocational Schools Act administered by the Ministry of Education and Training. These institutions are privately owned and operated as a commercial enterprise.

Lorenzo Santini, president for the Institute called their brand of education accelerated learning. The 24-week, five-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day programs are instructor-led with some collaborative learning. When asked about the 100 per cent guarantee, he said, “We have 100 per cent control over your learning experience and what we teach you.” He said unlike college and universities where courses are independent, at the Institute they are integrated.

While they are not in competition with colleges and universities, Santini said their main rivals are DeVry and ITI. He believes that education is moving toward private type of schools. “Training and education today is about making a significant investment into private institutions like ourselves. We believe education training should have a return on investment.” And students should also be prepared to make a significant financial investment, as the Institute charges $17,000 for acceptance into one of their programs.

The school has a strategic training alliance with companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and IBM. John Kutcy, the general manager of education industry for IBM in Markham, Ont., said the Institute is a business partner with the vendor. As such, they are able to source IBM products and use them. “We work with them on their advisory council and to advise them on marketplace needs, the way we see the marketplace evolving and the types of skills required by IBM, our customers and other people in the industry to better design their programs to meet the future needs of students.”

Kutcy believes that places like the Institute are fulfilling a need in the marketplace for students who are looking for shorter termed programs and a quicker payback on their return on investment. “Shorter programs are filling a niche in the marketplace. People are looking for high quality, focused short term programs that they feel are beneficial to them.”

Public institutions have seen their enrolments increase dramatically because of the demand for IT people. Under the Ontario government’s Access to Opportunities initiative, universities have seen an explosion of growth.

Jim Clarke, associate chair for the computer science program at the University of Toronto said enrolment has doubled over the last five years. The department now accepts between 300-400 students annually. “We’re at the point now where we reject people from the program.” He added that their main rival is the University of Waterloo. Yet Clarke made the distinctions between private and public institutions rather clear. “What is ordinarily described as theoretical would be programming language design or software engineering. We consider those applications.”

He added that while there are enough students interested in computer science across universities in Ontario, the trade off are class sizes that have ballooned to well over a hundred per class. Clarke would like to see the university reject more students.

But some educators have not been impressed with the Institute’s overall reputation, saying they don’t offer students a balanced education.

“Theirs (the Institute) is very much a cookie cutter. If you want to become a Microsoft licensed systems engineer, that’s what they teach you, Microsoft’s certification standards,” said Brian Westbrook, e-learning professional in Portage, Man. He said that students do have a high probability of finding employment because once they are aware that the student is Microsoft certified, the squeaky door has opened. Yet, Westbrook challenged the length of the course and it’s time structure, saying that 40 hours per week leads to minimal retention for the student.

Also, the amount of money asked by the school left Westbrook angered. “It’s a lot of money. If I’m an employer and someone walks in with a 24 week piece of paper from something called the Institute and another from George Brown College, I would hire the guy from George Brown.” He was also concerned about the educational background of those teaching at the Institute. Numerous attempts to speak with anyone at the Ministry were denied. However, under Regulation 939 set out by the Ministry of Education & Training, The Institute, like the 300 other private vocational schools in Ontario that are registered, have met the minimum requirements regarding curriculum, teacher qualifications and refund policy. “They don’t teach you basic business practices or business writing and you only need a Grade 12 education to get in.”