ESL and ABE Students get a lump of coal this Christmas

For almost a year the provincial government has been promising some news about its funding commitment to English Language Training programs across the province.  The news was supposed to address the glaring shortfall in provincially sourced support for ESL programs delivered by public post-secondary institutions.  The pressure to make good on the province’s commitment to ESL programs has come from the concerted campaigns of faculty and students across the public system who fear the worst: the BC government would walk away from its responsibility to provide high quality English Language Training programs at public post-secondary institutions.

With that as a backdrop, it’s easy to understand why faculty and students were keen to see the content of the government’s big announcement on post-secondary funding that was released December 4th.  Adding to the suspense was the fact that the announcement included details from both the Ministry of Advanced Education as well as the Ministry responsible for BC’s K-12 system.  However, despite references to “improvements” and “support for low-income students enrolling in courses including ESL”, the announcement was a setback for anyone hoping for better or more affordable access to core programs in post-secondary institutions.

Part of the setback comes in the form of tuition fees for Adult Basic Education programs, fees that had been eliminated in 2008, but as of December 4, 2014 were reinstated.   For thousands of adult learners who looked to post-secondary institutions to either get their Grade 12 or complete needed prerequisites for career advancement, ABE programs are critical and the fact that they have been tuition-free for the last six years made them that much more accessible.  The announcement has changed all of that.  The proposal to offer needs based grants as an offset to the tuition fee announcement only adds a layer of administration and uncertainty to students who can be easily discouraged from taking these upgrading programs in the first place.

The news for ESL students was not much better either.  Starting January 1, 2015, ESL programs will follow the same path as ABE programs when it comes to tuition fees, a move that will disrupt the already difficult life of students who are trying to improve their English language competencies to secure better job prospects. 

The fact that both announced changes come this close to Christmas has not been lost on those of us who have been campaigning so hard to get a fair deal for students through better funding from the provincial government.  A miserly government has decided that instead of opening doors for our students, they are finding new ways to slam them shut.  BC deserves better.  So too do our students.

This lump-of-coal announcement won’t work and we won’t quit campaigning until the provincial government finds the right answer for these students.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.