An event organized to protest cuts to English language training drew hundreds of students and teachers to Vancouver Community College today (June 3).
Karen Shortt, the president of the VCC Faculty Association, said the college is in a “crisis” due to a suspension of funding for English as a second language classes at the institution that will leave 3,000 students without training after December of this year.
“That’s 3,000 students per term that we have been training here at this college for over 40 years,” Shortt said at the rally outside VCC on East Broadway.
“We are the largest provider of English language training in this province, and we have been cut to zero starting in January.”
The cuts stem from the federal government's decision to end the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement, which funded ESL education. Transitional funding from the B.C. government for ESL programs is set to run out at the end of this year.
Saeideh Ghaffarifar, a trained medical doctor from Iran and spokesperson for the ESL Matters campaign, told the crowd of students and teachers carrying placards that the news of the program suspension is “devastating”.
“Over 60 percent of the students at VCC have a degree, diploma or certificate from another country, and just require some English training to find work,” she said.
“VCC is filled with students like me, who are ready to work or take a typical program to upgrade their skills.”
Marcos Moscoso, an ESL student at VCC, worked as a literature professor at a university in Lima, Peru before moving to Canada. For the last year and a half, the permanent Canadian resident has been living in Vancouver and taking classes to improve his English.
Moscoso, who said his job hunt so far has been unsuccessful, has been working as a Spanish tutor to make ends meet.
“I would like to become here a librarian, but I need to improve my English,” he said.
“The ESL program is the only chance I have to improve my English for a work setting, so that I can find employment.”
Jenelle Davies, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia, noted that ESL programs are accessed by “some of the most marginalized individuals in our society”.
“Without affordable public programming, these individuals will be forced to seek training through lower quality private institutions, or poorly resourced community agencies,” she stated.
“Those coming from other countries without the necessary language skills to engage in the workplace in English are often unable to afford the cost recovery model so prevalent in ESL training.”
Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, vowed to work with students and other unions and organizations to restore ESL funding.
“Together we are going to fight to make sure that ESL doesn’t just survive but that it thrives in this province,” she told the crowd.
Earlier this year, the provincial government announced transitional funding to help post-secondary institutions affected by the federal government's decision to cancel the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement, including close to $8 million for VCC.
"The B.C. government continues to work with public post-secondary institutions to develop a long-term strategy for the delivery of ESL and mitigate the impact on students," a March news release from the Ministry of Advanced Education stated.