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Invest in colleges now to rebuild Ontario after COVID-19: OPSEU

Toronto – OPSEU says the Ontario government’s recent announcement of $25 million to support Ontario’s public colleges in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis is a start but does not go far enough.

“We’re going through the biggest health crisis in over a century,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, “The government needs to put more funding into the college system to preserve its integrity and guarantee its future.”

As part of the announcement, students will not need to make payments until September 30, 2020, nor will interest accrue during this time.

“We’re very pleased the government is extending help to our students,” said RM Kennedy, chair of OPSEU’s College Academic Division. “But if postsecondary education was more affordable, and financial help more generous, students wouldn’t have such bloated debts in the first place.

“As for the $25 million, spread out over 24 colleges and 22 universities, that’s just a start,” he continued. “In three weeks, 5,000 partial-load contracts will end and may not be renewed. The colleges need real, substantial help. The government must respond in a meaningful and sustained manner.”

Janice Hagan, chair of OPSEU’s Full-Time College Support Division, agreed, noting some part-time support staff stand to lose their jobs as soon as Monday. “As much as the province is in a profound health crisis, the colleges are in a severe financial crisis. If the government doesn’t embrace a longer-term vision and provide colleges with critical emergency funding, it will surely undermine Ontario’s recovery. As the Premier has said, this simply is no time for half-measures.”

Duncan McFarlane, chair of the Part-Time College Support Division says this will also leave many part-time members vulnerable.

“The government’s inadequate funding will not address the serious needs of thousands of part-time support workers in the College system,” said McFarlane. “The impacts of this pandemic will be unchanged for them: many of these precarious workers will face job loss and continued financial insecurity.”

It takes $4.7 billion to operate Ontario’s colleges,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “About $1.1 billion – almost a quarter – comes from international student tuition. As the government has cut funding, colleges have relied more and more on international students to make up the shortfall. With COVID-19, and without joint problem solving, that income will dry up – and so will college revenues. We’re looking at a postsecondary education catastrophe in the making.”

“After COVID-19, we’ll need all hands on deck to rebuild Ontario, starting with our graduates’ special skills, creativity and ability, to address a new global economic reality,” said Thomas. “The government has to make a substantial investment in our colleges so that Ontario can hit the ground running. This is no time to count pennies.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; RM Kennedy, 416-346-8382; Janice Hagan, jrhagan64@gmail.com; Duncan McFarlane duncan.m.mcfarlane@gmail.com