$500 'support fund' not enough to compensate for strike, college students say

Ontario college students who are taking on a condensed semester after a five-week strike by college faculty say the refunds they're being offered are not enough to compensate for the time they've lost.

Refunds 'set up to discourage' applications, student says

Students gather outside the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday November 1, 2017, as they protest against the ongoing strike by Ontario faculty members. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario college students who are taking on a condensed semester after a five-week strike by college faculty say the refunds they're being offered are not enough to compensate for the time they've lost.    

Students who opt out of the semester qualify for a full tuition refund but full-time students who chose to stick it out are eligible for up to $500 in a financial hardship refund.

Ontario Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews says this is the first time a "student support fund" has been set up to help students recover after a post-secondary strike. 

The catch for some students, however, is that they need to show a paper trail proving financial loss.

The way the relief fund is set up, it's set up to discourage," Humber College student Tommy MacMurdo told CBC  Toronto. 

"There are things we don't have receipts for and most students weren't prepared to record losses or impacts that occurred to them," he explained.

MacMurdo, a second-year media student who emailed Matthews about problems with the hardship fund, says things like the mental stress are not easily quantifiable, and he is still incurring costs.

Humber College student Tommy MacMurdo has reached out to Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews with his concerns regarding hardship refunds. (CBC)

"We were left very little time to complete different projects, many of which, for my program, account for about three hours of homework for every hour in the classroom. This means losing shifts at work in order to facilitate completing projects," he added. 

Like MacMurdo, international students say even though the strike is over, it's still taking a financial toll. 

"I cannot focus on my studies because I have to work," college student Seoheyun Jhong said.

Jhong, who is from South Korea, says she can't afford to lose the semester.  

Students are also reporting that the forms to get reimbursed are onerous and discouraging. 

Matthews says colleges are authorized to go above $500 if they deem a student's situation to be exceptional. 

"It is difficult to anticipate all circumstances that may lead to financial challenges and we want any student with a strike-related hardship to have access to aid," the minister said in an email. 

With files from Ali Chiasson