As a winner of Top Language School in Vancouver 2020, VGC International College and its Executive Director Dominic Walton are featured in the latest edition of the Top Choice Magazine. The article focuses on what makes VGC so successful in a highly competitive market, how to pick the right language school and the challenges of successfully guiding an international college through a global pandemic.
Dominic Walton, Executive Director at VGC International College, has turned the little known language school in Vancouver into one of the leading academic English language schools in Canada since joining the school in 2012. With an extensive background in international education as well as an MBA, Walton sees himself as a business strategist and educator, and combines both perspectives in his daily work at VGC.
“With every crisis comes opportunity.”
Read on to see the full article as Walton goes further into the development, growth and success of VGC, an outlook on online learning as well as the changes he had to make for VGC in light of the global events in 2020.
- VGC has been voted best language school in Vancouver for the second year in a row – what makes the College so successful? It’s a combination of people, product, culture and vision. People are the first and most important ingredient. Making sure you have a team that understands what the company is about and are hard working, all with strong character and ethics. The product is important because it is what you build your reputation off. In our industry product means academics, the curriculum is important and so is getting people who understand academics, and the theories in delivering a product that is really affective. We have a team that has taken years to develop and collect and who all contribute crucial rolls in delivering this to our clients.Then we must have vision. As all businesspeople know, there always must be vision. A direction. If you don’t keep swimming you are sinking. There is no excitement and who wants to come to a school with no excitement?
All three of these factors, of course, focus on one thing and that is the student. Without them we have nothing.
- Vancouver has numerous schools and colleges to choose from – what advice would you give to a student to find the right school for their stay? Do your research. And when you have done your research choose the school that gives you a good feeling inside. The one that talks to you. Don’t let anyone else decide this for you. It must be your decision. If you love your choice, then you are more likely to be successful there.
- What are the top 3 things that make students choose VGC International College?
1. Our People: teachers, staff and marketers.
2. Our great programs.
3. All the extras you get included with your tuition like workshops, writing centre, study lab, continuing studies and amazing activities.
- How would you describe VGC’s culture?
We asked this question to our students and teachers once and everyone said “family”. There is something special that happens when you market well and hire well. People are attracted to the same positive energy.
- What impact does the social experience have for a student in a language program?
As students will tell you, we have amazing activities. There are studies that say students are three times more likely to succeed in their studies if they make friends in the school. These social experiences enable them to make lifelong friends and get the support needed to be successful in their studies. Furthermore, it’s just so much fun. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.
- Why did you decide to expand your focus and add business programs?
It was a natural step for me as an MBA graduate and someone obviously interested in business, but the real reason was that the majority of our students when surveyed were using their English for business or wanted to further their studies in business.
- Have you seen a change in the way teachers work with their students over the last years?
When I first took over the school, the classes were not very interactive so the first thing we introduced was regular professional development workshops for our teachers. These originally focused on making the classes as dynamic and interactive as possible. Then we recognized how technology is so important, so we focused on delivering a program that integrated technology and interactive activities. Now over the COVID crisis we have gone online, and this training has paid off. Our teachers are doing a fabulous job of keeping the students engaged.
- What do you think is the key to a good language program?
A combination of a good teacher and an excellent curriculum combined with very precise learning outcomes.
- What do you think about technology to help with language learning?
We have a competitor who has sworn to be tech free and of course now they are racing toward technology during the COVID crisis. The truth is technology is part of the language now. The vocabulary is integrated into our everyday lives. We must embrace it. During this crisis we have gone online with our VGC Virtual program and I think a lot of people are seeing how technology really can enhance the learning experience. You can review language points that are not clear the first time. You can communicate easily with people and learn from a distance as if the classroom is in your own home. It especially helps with people who take longer to learn languages as they can review easily.
- What do you think are the biggest challenges international students face when they come to learn English in Canada?
I think when they have to learn to get over the mistakes. Don’t worry about them so much. Let’s start with the meaning. The function of the language. Grammar isn’t so important and that will come later. Nothing is more exciting than to see our students order a coffee for the first time and … get a coffee! Wow I ordered something, and I got what I ordered! In English!
- What do you think is the best age to come for a language program?
Any age. It’s never too late to learn although if you are like me your brain absorbs less as I am getting older. Our average age is 28 and we recognize there are a lot of older students who want to learn. We divide our classes according to age as well as culture, so students feel more comfortable in class. So, any age!
- 2020 has been off to a challenging start with the outbreak of the Coronavirus. What strategies have changed for VGC to react to the pandemic?
Obviously, this is a game changer for everyone. The nature of it means we are changing day to day. Our strategy is first of all, to make sure our students are taken care of and are safe. Training our teaching staff to make sure our programs still have that outstanding quality, then changing our marketing strategies to make sure people at home in their own countries know they can now join in. And because we were able to get our message out quickly, VGC Virtual has become a success.
- What was the greatest challenge the school had to face in the recent global outbreak of the Coronavirus?
Dealing with uncertainty. Obviously, we had to close our locations down when we had to go online and reassure the students that we will all get through this. Making sure their well-being is front and foremost – and doing this all online. It’s hard not seeing people in person.
- The Coronavirus has urged international education providers to react to this unforeseen global event quickly. Was expanding to virtual education something you had considered previously?
It is something I am familiar with. We have looked into it as we are constantly asked to do online courses for some of our markets abroad. So, it was not a hard expansion to VGC Virtual. Right now, it is going so well we will extend those courses past our reopening. It will definitely change how we deliver programs even when things get back to normal.
- What are the chances of virtual classrooms for an International College like VGC? Do you think online learning will replace face-to-face courses in the future?
No. I think a nice blend would be better. I think we will see time and budget sensitive students gravitate towards these online programs, but they have been out there for some time. Why won’t the face to face learning be replaced entirely? Because the girl still wants to meet the boy and the boy still wants to meet the girl. Face to Face. How exciting is the possibility of romance … in English!
- What positive side are you taking out of this crisis for your College?
Lots! With every crisis comes opportunity. I believe this industry will come back strong in the next year despite being hit very hard with this crisis. I believe our processes and curriculum will be improved through this crisis as it is being vetted and strengthened every day. And it is holding up well! But the most important is to witness the resilience of the students and the resolve of our teachers and staff as they have dedicated themselves even more so to this company and in return I have dedicated myself even more to them. And we are back to the most important ingredient of a successful school – people. And we have renewed faith in our people.
To learn more about VGC and its programs, visit www.VGC.ca or contact the school directly at [email protected]
Top Choice Award is one of the greatest endorsements a business can receive within North America & Europe. VGC has been voted Top Language School in Vancouver for the second year in a row. We take pride in providing its students with excellent services, an amazing intercultural experience, and the best academic learning environment.