The BC government is providing one-time transition funding of $10.5 million to help post-secondary institutions adjust to major changes in how the federal government funds English language training (ELT) programs in the province.
But critics charge it’s a temporary stop-gap that won’t replace much-needed federal government support critical to meet burgeoning demand for ELT, driven by growing diversity in student and immigrant populations.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC joined with the BC division of the Canadian Federation of Students to voice opposition to the changes, which federation president Cindy Oliver said will hurt thousands of students enrolled in a wide range of language training programs offered in post-secondary institutions throughout the province.
“(We are) mobilizing support among students, allies in various community organizations as well
as the broader labour movement to ensure the federal government continues to fund high-quality English language training programs and continues to use the public post-secondary system to deliver those programs,” she said.
The province has known since 2012 that changes were coming after Ottawa announced it would be cancelling the Canada-BC Immigration Agreement, through which $17 million in federal funding flowed annually under the long-standing federal-provincial settlement services agreement.
Those funds were dispersed through BC’s Ministry of Advan-ced Education to support English language programs for immigrants and students.
Still, last December’s announcement that the agreement, and all monies flowing through it, would end April 1, sent shockwaves through the system, prompting administrators to warn of imminent lay-offs and abruptly close classrooms, and the federation to mount its campaign to pressure Ottawa to rethink the cuts.
While the provincial bridge funding is welcomed by school administrators who say they will use the funds to plan a more orderly, year-long winding down of training programs offered by their institutions, the future of ELT in BC remains unclear.
BC Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk said that after April 1, contracts for ELT will be awarded directly by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to non-profit agencies and a limited number of post-secondary institutions.
But exactly which organizations or institutions will win contracts, and for how much, will not be disclosed until the end of March.
Calling the cuts a “step backward,” Oliver said the changes come at a particularly bad time for post-secondary education in BC, where for more than a decade core funding for public institutions has been outpaced by growing cost pressures on the system and increased enrolment.
And with international student enrolment predicted to continue to rise, “the federal government’s rationale for cutting the funds makes no sense,” she said.
From the provincial injection of funding, $4.67 million has been allotted to Vancouver Community College, the largest provider of ELT programs in Western Canada.
The college employs about 200 individuals for ELT classes that serve 1,200 full-time-equivalent language students — amounting to almost half of all immigrant ELT instruction in BC — but it’s uncertain whether it will win equivalent funding under the new model directly administered by the federal government.