Friday, June 28th, 2013

Duguid Decides: Bitmaker Labs Must Be Licensed as Private College

Image Source: Wired

Image Source: Wired

Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), has told Bitmaker Labs that they must be licensed as a private college. The decision comes after the firm voluntarily shut down operations and took down its website because of an MTCU investigation that was initiated following a Globe & Mail article that made mention of the firm.

“The Ontario government is a champion of entrepreneurs and as such, we will do everything to help Ontario’s innovators and entrepreneurs succeed,” said Duguid in an email statement. “Of course, Bitmaker will need to register, just like everyone else – and they are currently in the process of doing that. I hope that this matter will be resolved very soon.”

Jail time and punitive fines

Bitmaker Labs shut down their classes earlier this week after it was advised by lawyers that legal action would be taken that could result in jail time and/or punitive fines. They charged tuition for their computer programming “boot camp”, but didn’t issue diplomas or even grades. They did, however, arrange a job fair at which some of the 25 partner companies come to meet the students.

Regardless of the unconventional nature of the nine-week program, an MTCU spokesperson says this and other similar programs can be defined as vocational even if they don’t issue grades or program certificates.

“Businesses that operate unlawfully in Ontario as unregistered private career colleges,” says the spokesperson, “deprive students of the legal entitlements and protections.”

“It’s like the government is stifling innovation”

The firm’s co-founder, Matt Gray, expressed frustration over having to shut down operations, saying that delivering the news to the students was “pretty much the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.”

“How is Toronto going to stay competitive on the global tech scene?” Gray asked. “It’s like the government is stifling innovation.”
“We’re trying to put Toronto on the map here,” he continued. “To shut it down just sends the signal that Toronto and Canada isn’t really serious about being innovative.”

The firm has decided to put together the paperwork to apply to become a private college, though that was not the route they wanted to take. The MTCU will have to approve Bitmaker Labs’ curriculum, which can take a long time in an industry that is constantly evolving and changing.

“The registration process is extremely burdensome for a startup and the costs can be quite substantial,” says Gray. “It’s also necessary to include approved examinations and assessments. The regulatory hurdles can take a lot of time.”

‘No choice but to conform’

Bitmaker Labs students, their hiring partners – which include Shopify, Uken Games, VidYard, TribeHR, FreshBooks, Wave, and ScribbleLive — and other in the city’s tech community expressed their disappointment via a series of tweets. Under increasing pressure to respond to the issues, Duguid’s office took to Twitter on Wednesday to assure its critics that they were actively seeking resolution:

Supporting #ON #entrepreneurs like @BitmakerLabs is vital. Pleased to report ministry is working closely w/ Bitmaker to resolve situation.

Tory Jarmain, another Bitmaker Labs co-founder, is still upset that the firm had to shut down.

“They don’t understand what we’re doing isn’t traditional education,” said Jarmain. “We have no choice but to conform to that.”

The co-founders have replaced their website pages with a letter to their many supporters and hope to be back in business as quickly as possible:

We are cooperating with the MTCU to come into compliance with provincial legislation. Our objective is to register as a private career college on an expedited basis. To achieve this objective, we have retained counsel. Should any of you be contacted by the MTCU, we urge you to cooperate fully. We appreciate that the MTCU has a statutory duty to uphold and enforce the law and that Bitmaker Labs has a corresponding duty to comply with the law.

Classes at the firm will remain suspended until all licensing and certification issues with the MTCU are settled.

Linda Galeazzi
Author: Linda Galeazzi
Linda Galeazzi has been an online writer and proof reader for several years.
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