Sixteen instructors fired after ESL funding cut

$1.35 million pulled from KPU budget.

$1.35 million pulled from KPU budget.

By Matt DiMera
[coordinating editor]

Sixteen instructors have been laid off at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, after the provincial government cut $1.35 million in funding for tuition-free English as a second language (ESL) programs from the institution’s 2014/15 budget.

(Illustration: Mark Stewart/The Runner)

In early December of last year, Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk confirmed that his ministry had been aware of the impending cuts since April 2012, when the federal government announced their intention to cancel the Canada-BC Immigration Agreement.

That agreement, which will expire April 1, 2014, had provided $22 million to the province. Of that funding, $17 million was funneled through the Ministry of Advanced Education to deliver English language training to more than 9,000 students in 2012.

“We are still waiting for an official decision on how the federal government plans to deliver English language training on April 1, 2014. However, it seems unlikely that the funding that flows through the ministry to institutions will be replaced through the RFP process that took place over the summer,” wrote Virk in a Dec. 10 statement.

Fourteen KPU ESL instructors and two academic and career preparation instructors received their layoff notices in early January. While Camosun College and Vancouver Community College have also received similar funding cuts, those institutions have not yet issued any layoffs to their staff.

KPU sent a message in early January to university staff explaining the layoffs.

“We regret having to take this action, but the reality is that this funding reduction will result in a loss of jobs. However, we are committed to working diligently with the [Kwantlen Faculty Association] to reduce the number of layoffs,” wrote the university in the Jan. 10 announcement.

Terri Van Steinburg, president of the Kwantlen Faculty Association (KFA) calls the cuts shameful.

“Two-thousand domestic ESL students in one of the highest immigrations areas of Richmond and Surrey are not being served,” she says.

“The faculty that are left are now going to be teaching international students, that’s what we’ve been told.”

While ESL courses for citizens and permanent residents are mandated to be tuition-free, international students pay more than four times the cost of most ordinary undergraduate tuition fees per credit for the same classes.

In response to the cuts, the KFA has been lobbying local MLAs and MPs from the KPU region. It is also partnering with the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators to launch a campaign to restore the original funding.

NDP advanced education critic David Eby says that when you consider the climbing number of new welfare cases in B.C., the cuts seem bizarre.

“Not being able to speak English at a level that’s required in the workplace means that they’re excluded from participating in the economy,” says Eby.

Business student Anas Al-Daas immigrated from Jordan two years ago and credits much of his academic success to KPU’s ESL program.

Al-Daas says that when he first came to Canada, he was afraid of not being able to properly communicate and that he was lucky to have taken the tuition-free courses.

“Once I started this, actually I felt so much different. I started talking to people, I started learning English. I was able to find a job later on,” he recounts.

“Having affordable classes was crucial. Cutting this type of program is just going to make it tougher for students who are going to be in my situation.”

Diane Walsh, an academic and career prep instructor at KPU, is also critical of the funding cuts.

“It’s a series of choices,” she says.

“The federal government made a choice, the provincial government made a choice and our administrators are making a choice, and the choice is to not fund education for ESL students in this institution – to take away the access to post-secondary education in this region.”