Fund aids needy stu­dents

Province or­ders col­leges to ease fi­nan­cial im­pact of fac­ulty strike on im­pov­er­ished en­rollees

The Beacon Herald - - YOURLIFEMOMENTS.CA - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN POST­MEDIA NEWS

Their term is now ex­tended into Jan­uary.

They’ve missed 20 days of class.

They don’t know when they’re go­ing back.

They’ve had enough, but the province is tak­ing a big step to help them.

Fan­shawe Col­lege stu­dents took to the streets Fri­day in Lon­don, call­ing for an end to the nearly five-week-long fac­ulty strike that’s can­celled classes for a month at On­tario’s 24 com­mu­nity col­leges and, in Fan­shawe’s case, has now pushed their fall term into the new year.

The protest came as the province or­dered the col­leges to cre­ate a fund from strike sav­ings to help stu­dents who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship be­cause of the strike and are wor­ried about how to pay for un­ex­pected costs, such as ex­tra rent or can­celled travel plans, be­cause of the dis­rup­tion.

“This is a chal­leng­ing time for ev­ery­one, but par­tic­u­larly for stu­dents,” Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Deb Matthews of Lon­don said in a state­ment.

“So, in the com­ing days, I look for­ward to work­ing di­rectly with stu­dent lead­ers and col­leges on how we can lessen the im­pact of the strike on stu­dents. They de­serve our sup­port.”

Matthews said the col­leges will es­tab­lish the ded­i­cated fund with all the sav­ings from the strike, made up of strik­ing staffers’ un­paid wages and other sav­ings from not op­er­at­ing the schools.

In an email Fri­day, ad­min­is­tra­tors at Lon­don-based Fan­shawe — which also has cam­puses in Wood­stock, St. Thomas and Sim­coe — said stu­dents can ex­pect to have the first se­mes­ter ex­tended into 2018, a move that also will de­lay the start of the next se­mes­ter.

It was un­wel­come news for the dozens of stu­dents who braved the cold at the school’s Ox­ford Street cam­pus rally, or­ga­nized by sec­ondyear nurs­ing stu­dents Michelle Wright and Bethany Baglieri.

“What hap­pens to the new ap­pli­cants that are com­ing in? We’re push­ing them back,” said Baglieri.

“This is af­fect­ing fu­ture stu­dents now, as well.”

Other stu­dents, signs in hand, chanted, “Let us learn” and waved at traf­fic to get their mes­sage out. Sim­i­lar demon­stra­tions took place at cam­puses across On­tario, in­clud­ing one at Lambton Col­lege in Sar­nia.

Provincewide, more than half a mil­lion stu­dents have been side­lined by the strike. That in­cludes tens of thou­sands in South­west­ern On­tario, at three col­leges in seven cities.

“We hope to make a change,” Baglieri said. “Maybe we can in­flu­ence one per­son, make them see how this is af­fect­ing our lives.”

Talks be­tween the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil, which bar­gains on be­half of the col­leges, and On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union (OPSEU) broke off Mon­day, five days af­ter both sides re­turned to the ta­ble.

In a bid to break the stale­mate, the col­leges ap­proached the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board to trig­ger a di­rect vote by the 12,000 strik­ing fac­ulty on a fi­nal of­fer, by­pass­ing the union bar­gain­ing team. The vot­ing on the coun­cil’s fi­nal of­fer be­gins next Tues­day, al­most a month to the day since fac­ulty walked off the job, and con­cludes Thurs­day.

“We just want back to class,” said first-year Fan­shawe stu­dent Ri­ley Jones. “Whether it’s (backto-work) leg­is­la­tion, fac­ulty vot­ing ‘yes’ — any­thing.”

OPSEU, which ac­cuses the col­leges of pro­long­ing the strike by trig­ger­ing a forced vote, is call­ing on its mem­bers to re­ject the of­fer.

Be­sides Lambton and Fan­shawe, af­fected schools in South­west­ern On­tario in­clude Wind­sor-based St. Clair Col­lege, which has a satel­lite cam­pus in Chatham.

The province couldn’t im­me­di­ately say how large the strike fund to help stu­dents would be, but col­leges re­ported $5 mil­lion in sav­ings af­ter an 18-day strike in 2006.

Matthews

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