UBC’s Vantage College – a new business model for international students

Oct 31, 2014    Source: Chantal Moore

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Each quarter, the BC Council for International Education highlights one public or private K-12 or post-secondary educational institution in the province that is making headlines in International Education. The August edition of Bulletin featured VanArts, a private digital arts college that attracts top talent with a student body that is nearly 50% international. The Fall Bulletin will focus on Vantage College – an innovative new program at the University of British Columbia for international students.

Vantage College (vantagecollege.ubc.ca) opened its doors this year as an innovative university program for first-year international students. In August, approximately 180 students from countries such as China, Hong Kong, Russia, Poland and Serbia enrolled in the inaugural year of the program.

While traditional university pathway programs have an off-campus private sector partner where students first go to gain English language skills, Vantage is unique in that it integrates English language instruction into its curriculum.

Principal of Vantage College James Ridge sees this as a way to solve problems:

“We routinely bumped into student who were academic superstars in their home countries but their language skills did not meet entry requirements; In many cases because they didn’t necessarily go to an elite private school, they went to a state school or a public system school somewhere where they did their high school in their native tongue. So we were saying ‘go away’ to many of thousands of students a year, who we knew academically would meet or exceed our requirements but there wasn’t a pathway for them.”

Although students may not meet UBC’s English entry requirements, they must pass academic English tests at a high level. Vantage then immerses students in a dedicated 11-month program where they receive English instruction in every class. Class sizes are small (under 75 students where traditional first-year classes approach 300) and instructors top-notch – many of them from abroad or former international students themselves. They share a passion for teaching international students, which contributes to the quality of the Vantage year.

Upon successful completion of their first year, students transition into second year and join the larger UBC student body. From day one they have access to all the amenities of a UBC student and are considered University students by every account. Transcripts bear no differences between Vantage College students and others; all students graduate with the same four-year Arts or Science degree.

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A laboratory of innovation

Because the Vantage Vision is bold and unchartered, it is not without risks. However, the College prides itself on being “a laboratory of innovation.” Much emphasis is placed on making the first-year experience exceptional for international students, raising the bar for the whole University. Students receive tailored curriculum but also social and administrative support making it more likely that they will succeed in a post-secondary environment and Canada.

As Ridge said “We’re providing a distinctive 100% international program that’s high-touch, very supportive and with rock star professors.”

The Vantage team takes success metrics seriously. Their goal is to track Vantage students throughout their degree program to ensure high academic standards. This is expected given the College’s hands-on support network.

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Going forward: the next five years

UBC encourages the efforts of Vantage as part of its larger internationalization strategy. As proof of this, over the next few years a 1000-bed residence, Orchard Commons, will be built in part for new Vantage students.

Going forward it is hoped Vantage will grow to 1000 students with at least four program streams and more representation from new markets. As well, the “living lab” model of customized curriculum and social supports could influence the University’s domestic programming.

Though only in its first year, students are optimistic about the Vantage model. As one student – Maria Barahona – from Honduras said:  

“The cultural shock and the transition from high school to college can be very difficult. Vantage College grabbed my attention with the guidance and preparation they offer,” she says. “I feel more confident knowing that I’m entering an international program with people from all over the world.”

BCCIE concluded by asking Ridge where Vantage College will be in five years.

“The hope is that there’s a lineup of students coming to see us.”