Since last year, B.C. advanced education minister Amrik Virk has been repeating the same message on the college ESL funding cut again and again. Virk’s message is to blame the federal government and that he has already provided one-year bridge funding and that he is working to maintain some of the college ESL program.
When we first heard this last year, it was a responsible and encouraging message. Minister Virk promised to maintain college ESL language training for immigrants. However, after listening to the same message for six months, then nine months, when the funding for the year is running out and the minister is still blaming the feds two years after the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement ended, it sounds more like a deception than an actual promise.
The reality is, since the federal government is funding the elementary levels of the ESL LINC program, Minister Virk could just sit on his hands and there will still be ESL programs in the colleges. It is the intermediate, high, and professional levels that are being axed.
Rally after rally, from Vancouver to Victoria, the ESL immigrant students have delivered their message loud and clear.
Even the legislature’s select standing committee on finance and government services, which is chaired and dominated by the governing B.C. Liberal Party’s MLAs, has recommended in their report to the government that the provincial government should “provide adequate funding to support provincially-funded ESL programs delivered by BC post-secondary institutions, and work with post-secondary institutions to develop a long-term and sustainable strategy for the delivery of ESL.”
Recently, Chinese community organization leaders stepped up and delivered a seven-point statement to the premier, urging “Premier Christy Clark to maintain funding for accessible, affordable College-based ESL programming.”
Right after the community forum, Minister Virk finally issued this new written statement: “The Ministry of Advanced Education continues to work with institutions on how they can keep English language training at higher levels such as academic level 8 and 9 sustainable beyond 2014/15, and will communicate any decisions, once they are made.”
This sounds like an encouraging message because it looks like the minister is finally facing and dealing with the reality of the funding cuts. He has committed “to work with institutions” to “keep English language training at higher levels” that are “sustainable beyond 2014/15”.
It’s very unfortunate that the sudden optimistic mood was gone the following day, when the education and advanced education ministers announced that “Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, public post-secondary institutions in British Columbia will be allowed to charge tuition fees for all adult upgrading courses, including ESL programs.”
My goodness! Minister Virk’s long-term resolution to fix B.C.’s unprecedented ESL crisis is to allow postsecondary institutions to charge tuition fees on ESL program but no funding from the provincial government?
As a former board member of Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the minister for advanced education, Virk should know very well that merely allowing postsecondary institutions to charge tuition fees on ESL program without government grants is not going to “keep” those high levels programs. Otherwise, the government can simply cut all the postsecondary institution funding and let them operate with tuition fees.
Right after winning the 2013 election, Christy Clark appeared on Chinese media attributing her victory to the support of the Chinese immigrant community; now it is time to see how sincere her appreciation really is.