Fund aids needy students
Province orders colleges to ease financial impact of faculty strike on impoverished enrollees
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.