04/17/2014 03:21 EDT | Updated 06/17/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. dissolves contested private career agency as part of core review

VANCOUVER - British Columbia has dissolved a contested agency that regulated private career colleges, saying the move is part of an effort to improve educational standards.

The functions of the Private Career Training Institutions Agency, established 10 years ago, will now be transferred to the Advanced Education Ministry.

Bill Bennett, the minister responsible for a core review of government services, said deleting the agency will save about $1.5 million over three years.

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk said there had been complaints about conflict of interest over the agency's board membership because while three members were appointed by the ministry, seven were voted in by the industry.

"We had to make sure that we were able to provide the public with reassurance that this was indeed arms length, in that respect, and the current structure was no longer arms length," he said Thursday.

The change moves the work previously done by the board in line with how other provinces handle private career institutions and puts new scrutiny on student loans, which have ballooned since 2007, Virk said.

He said the loan default rate with private career colleges is double that of the public system, at about 18 per cent compared to about eight per cent, and amounted to $40 million in the last three years.

"I want to examine, are the right students getting the right loans for the right programs? Are they programs that the labour market supports?"

David Eby, the Opposition NDP's advanced education critic, said his party has been critical of how the government has regulated private career institutions.

"Something had to be done," he said. "It's a good decision — if the ministry starts enforcing minimum standards."

He said the previous system risked two things: the possibility that domestic students might pay too much for inadequate programs and a potential for B.C.'s reputation to be marred internationally because of the experience of non-Canadians studying within the private system.

The government also announced Thursday the creation of a single digital library so people across the province can go online to access research done in B.C.'s post-secondary institutions.

Virk said the province has spent about $300 million funding research by post-secondary institutions, and taxpayers deserve to have access to the information.

A second phase of creating the library will see more resources shared through open licences between public libraries and 1,600 school libraries in B.C., with expected savings amounting to between $1 million and $2 million.