News / Vancouver

Vancouver Community College ESL program threatened by federal cuts

ESL courses are so full at Vancouver Community College that people lined up at 3 a.m. in January for a chance at a seat in English class.

Despite the popularity of the college’s packed ESL program, the largest in Western Canada with 3,000 students each term, VCC will have to cancel some classes if it can’t get additional government funding, Karen Shortt, president of VCC’s faculty association, said Tuesday.

For the past decade, the college received $8 million from the government to run the program for new immigrants – it’s hasn’t been allowed to charge tuition since 2012 – but this year it will only get $4.67 million due to federal cuts.

Shortt believes the province should fund the shortfall because adult education is a provincial mandate and English education helps new immigrants find jobs in a province with a shortage of skilled workers.

“The province needs to step up and fund this so jobs can be filled,” Shortt said. “There’s no doubt people need this training to get on with their lives and come back as taxpayers.”

The federal government used to funnel money for ESL through the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education, which then gave the money to VCC and other colleges. But as of April 1, 2014, the feds will instead distribute the money to community organizations of its choosing. (It’s not yet clear how the program will work.)

To help with the transition to the new system, the province has distributed $10.5 million to help organizations including VCC.

The province has been working with public post-secondary institutions since last April when the federal government announced plans to change how ESL training is delivered, according to an emailed statement attributed to Amrik Virk, Minister of Advanced Education.

“We’ve expressed our concerns about the transition to a new funding model and indicated our preference would be to retain the current model,” Virk said.

Yet the province doesn’t seem prepared to fork cash on top of the “one-time” transition funding.

“ESL training will also continue to be available for immigrants through not-for-profit and community organizations that will negotiate contracts directly with the federal government,” Virk said.

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