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Funding slashed at Camosun for immigrant English training

The federal government is eliminating funding for subsidized English language training for immigrants at B.C. community colleges, including Camosun College, officials said today.

At any given time, 200 to 300 recent newcomers to Victoria receive English as a second language training at Camosun's Interurban and Landsdowne campuses, often for free. The college found out last week that $2.5 million allocated for domestic ESL training wouldn't be renewed in April 2014.

Camosun is the second largest ESL institution in B.C., after Vancouver Community College.

"ESL is at the core of what we offer at the college. It's about getting new Canadians to a point where they are contributing economically. (The cuts) are disappointing for us to put it mildly," said Joan Yates, Camosun's vice-president of community engagement.

"It is a good, strong program. We meet the needs of new immigrants who need help and aren't in a position to pay a lot of money for it."

"With advanced language training, (immigrants) are able to move on to post-secondary, or are able to get a job or work in a job they are already qualified to do," said Kelly Pitman, president of the Camosun College Faculty Association and an English teacher. "In the long term it's very bad for the economy not to train these students."

Camosun received a head's-up from the Ministry of Advanced Education that it likely wouldn't receive funding normally routed from the federal government for domestic ESL. International ESL is fully funded from foreign students studying here.

In 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it would cancel the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement starting April 1, 2014, and $17 million in annual ESL funding that came with it. Institutions like Camosun submitted proposals to Citizen and Immigration Canada to deliver ESL training, but Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk said none of those proposals were accepted.

Virk said domestic ESL training won't end, but federal government will deliver programming directly, although how and where remains unknown. The Surrey-Tynehead MLA said he prefers the current ESL education system and that colleges "delivered an excellent product."

"The end users will still get the service provided by the federal government," he said. "Students will be taught in a different system."

Virk noted that colleges have been well aware for more than a year that ESL funding under the existing regime would end with the dissolution of the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement, and should have been planning accordingly.

"Each institution was well aware of the time frame," he said. "They knew this was coming. It was well known there was potential the funding was going to cease."

Camosun still has a mandate to offer domestic ESL training, Yates said, meaning the college will likely have to find the money from other areas of its budget. Camosun has about 13 faculty teaching ESL at risk of losing their jobs.

On top of the cut to domestic ESL funding, she said the ministry indicated the college could expect a additional $2.5 million cut to its 2014 operating budget, which in 2013 was $105 million. Nothing is official, but Camosun is planning its departmental spending with a potential $5 million loss "added to a difficult budget year," Yates said.

"If that is the case it likely means cuts elsewhere (at the college)," she said. "We were looking at a reduced budget anyway, which is compounded by the $2.5 million cut."

The college says it strives to make cuts that have the least amount of impact on students and their education, but Pitman doubts that principle will be upheld heading into 2014. Years of flat funding from government means annual reductions in spending power due to inflation and employee wage contracts, she said.

"We've been pared to the bone. We've been instructed to have as little impact on students. That's not possible any longer," Pitman said. "It's hard to imagine this not resulting in less opportunity for students."

editor@saanichnews.com

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