British Columbia

ESL program at Vancouver Community College axed

Vancouver Community College teachers were told at a staff meeting late Thursday that funding for the college's English as a second language program will end in December.

VCC is the largest provider of English second language training in Western Canada

Vancouver Community College teachers were told Thursday that their ESL program is being eliminated. (CBC)

Vancouver Community College teachers were told at a staff meeting late Thursday that funding for the college's English as a second language program will run out in December.

When we were given $8 million in transitional funding from the government we didn't realize itwas a transition to zero,- Karen Shortt, VCC Faculty Association President

Faculty Association President Karen Shortt says about 72 staff members will get layoff notices in June and the program will close entirely in December.

The federal government announced in 2012 that it would cancel the Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement which funded ESL training.

At the time, the province said Ottawa was in discussions with not-for-profit community groups who would bid for government contracts to take over the delivery of ESL services.

In March, the provincial government announced it was giving VCC about $8 million in one-time transitional funding to keep its ESL program alive until the end of the year.

"When we were given $8 million in transitional funding from the government, we didn't realize it  was a transition to zero,"  Shortt told CBC news Thursday night.

On Thursday B.C.'s Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk issued a statement saying he would have preferred the previous funding model remained in place.

"I appreciate that this is a very challenging time for students at VCC as they adapt to the new model of English language training. However, my Ministry continues to explore with VCC all of the options available to determine if they can continue to offer some level of ESL beyond 2014/15.

"Our focus is on ensuring immigrants continue to access ESL training to succeed, find jobs and help the Province meet labour market demands in a growing economy.

When the government provided the one-time funding in March, it said in a news release it was working with public post-secondary institutions on a long-term strategy for the delivery of ESL services to reduce the impact on students.

The same month it also announced another $9 million in one-time funding to support ESL services at a number of other institutions including Camosun College, Douglas College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, BCIT, Langara College and Capilano University.

But it also warned federal funding of the program was changing.

A few months ago, In a last ditch attempt to restore funding, students and faculty at the college launched an ESL Matters campaign.

Nimmi Takkar, from the ESL Matters campaign, says the cuts will affect thousands of students.

"This means 3,000 students who are Canadian citizens, 60 per cent who have degrees from other countries, will not be able to get the English skills they need to work in B.C."

With files from Richard Zussman

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