Algonquin College students confused, frustrated as classes set to resume

Algonquin College students say they're confused and worried about how their fall semester will play out as Ontario's five-week college faculty strike comes to an end.

Faculty return Monday, classes resume Tuesday for more than 500,000 students across Ontario

Faculty at Ontario's colleges will be returning to work this week after back-to-work legislation passed at Queen's Park Sunday — bringing an end to the five-week strike. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Algonquin College students say they're confused and worried about how their fall semester will play out as a province-wide faculty strike comes to an end.

The Ontario government held a special weekend sitting to debate a bill legislating teachers back to work. The bill passed 39-18 in Queen's Park Sunday afternoon, bringing an end to the five-week strike.

The legislation came after the union rejected the College Employer Council's latest offer last week, with 86 per cent voting against it.

More than 12,000 faculty across the province's 24 colleges have been on the picket line since Oct. 16, affecting around 500,000 students, including those at Algonquin College.

They keep telling us, stay on top of your courses, which is not fair.- Sophia Vonn , a student in the business accounting program

As the frustration arising from the lengthy strike ends, many students said Sunday it's being replaced with worries about what's next.

Business administration student Amber Norlock said there's a lot of confusion among students as to whether they were supposed to submit assignments during the strike.

She said she's worried about returning to class tomorrow.

"I'm feeling stressed and overwhelmed because I feel like, as soon as we start, there's going to be a lot of assignments due," Norlock said.

"Not really sure how we're going to make up those."

Amber Norlock says she's stressed about going back to class Tuesday and worried about catching up before the semester ends on Dec. 22. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Calls to restart semester

Some students are calling for the college to restart the semester. Since they've been out of the classroom for so long, they fear being unable to catch up on their coursework.

Sophia Vonn, a mature student in the business accounting program, said she's worried she won't be able to complete the semester in the remaining weeks.

"They have to give us some extra time.... If they compress everything [so that we can] do the midterm and the final exam, I think we're all probably going to fail for sure," she said.

Students in her program were being told to complete online quizzes during the strike without being taught the material, she added.

"It's frustrating, very frustrating. Because when we need help, we couldn't even find anybody [who] can give us a hand," she said.

"They keep telling us, stay on top of your courses, which is not fair."

'A challenging time'

In a letter sent to students Sunday, Algonquin College President Cheryl Jensen called for patience as the college tries to figure out how to get classes back on track.

I just don't know how we're going to catch back up to be honest. That's a long time to be away. That's a lot of stuff we've missed now.- Mason Hutt, a second-year student

"We have come through a challenging time, but I believe we have tried to work
through our situation in the best way possible — caring for each other, learning from
each other, upholding our integrity and respecting each other through it all. I would like us to continue on in the same way, with a good mind," she wrote.

But the letter didn't include the details many students are seeking — including how their courses will be affected, given that there are only five weeks left before classes end on Dec. 22 for the holiday break.

Pat Kennedy, president of the union local that represents faculty at Algonquin College, said students have legitimate concerns about completing their semester.

Despite continued assurances from the college's president, Kennedy told CBC News he doesn't believe there is actually a plan in place to make up needed classes — especially for programs with requirements governed by outside agencies like Transport Canada.

Students call for refund

Mason Hutt, 19, echoed the calls to restart the semester.

"I just don't know how we're going to catch back up, to be honest. That's a long time to be away," Hutt said. "That's a lot of stuff we've missed now."

The second-year student in the heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning technician program said he's also taken a financial hit because he hasn't received a needed bursary and has been living off quickly-dwindling savings.

Hutt said he's also upset that students had to pay part of their tuition right before faculty went on strike.

"We've had a lot of money going out but we haven't really been taught [anything]," he said.

Advanced Education Minister and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said the plan is to give students some money back.

She said colleges have been directed to set aside net savings from the strike to potentially disperse to students in financial need — but how and when that will happen is still undetermined.