Government orders colleges to create hardship fund for students

Fund would collect all the money that colleges have saved during the strike and dedicate it to support students who have experienced financial hardship

Updated Nov. 15 at 11:15 a.m. with comment from NDP education critic Peggy Sattler 

Deb Matthews, the minister of advanced education and skills development, announced on Nov. 10 that the Ontario government will require colleges to create dedicated funds with all the savings from the strike. The funds are to be used to support students who have experienced financial hardships during the strike.

“While every student’s situation is unique, all students are struggling with continued uncertainty,” said Matthews in a statement. “They are worried about how to pay for unexpected costs like additional rent or canceling long-standing travel plans to be home with family.” 

This announcement comes a day after a meeting with the College Student Alliance (CSA), who represents approximately 97,000 college students in Ontario at 13 different student associations. 

“We understand that this isn’t going to be a solution that will fix all the problems that this strike has caused and we are still encouraging the college employer council and OPSEU to get back to the table, agree to binding arbitration, and get a deal done this weekend,” said CSA spokesperson Emmaline Scharbach.

The CSA says that they will be meeting with the ministry to try and work on the details of how the hardship funds would work.

“This is definitely a beginning, but a tuition refund is a different ballgame,” said Riddhi Modi, director of communications and internal at the Student Association of George Brown College (SA). “This is not enough.” 

The SA has decided to support student associations from Seneca, Durham, Georgian and Loyalist College at a protest at Queens Park on Wednesday at noon calling on the provincial government to refund students’ tuition. 

“Our demands are pretty clear, we want a tuition refund,” said Modi. “We want to tell them that students have a voice.”

The union representing striking college faculty said they applaud the move from the ministry to create the fund.

“What Minister Matthews has done is exactly what faculty were asking for in the petition we launched earlier this week,” said JP Hornick, chair of the faculty bargaining team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in a statment. “Anything that will help students get through this difficult time is more than welcome, and we thank the minister for moving ahead with it.”

New Democratic Party education critic Peggy Sattler pressed the issue during question period on Tuesday.

“Last week’s announcement of a hardship fund for ‘some’ of the 500,000 college students who have been financially disadvantaged by the strike is cold comfort to students who are seeing their dreams slip away as this strike drags on,” said Sattler.

Sattler called on the government to address the underfunding of colleges in Ontario.

“Is this really the best advice this Liberal government can offer to students, when it is their failure to properly fund the system that created the conditions for this strike, and their inaction that has allowed the strike to drag on past the breaking point?” asked Sattler.

Requests for comment from George Brown College (GBC) were not immediately returned.

Faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges have been on strike since Oct. 16. On Monday the College Employer Council asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on their offer from Nov. 6. The vote on the college’s offer is scheduled to happen from Nov. 14 to 16.

GBC has extended the fall semester to Dec. 22 and cancelled the winter intersession break, originally scheduled from Feb. 26 to March 2. GBC has said that when the strike ends there will be a minimum of two business days before classes resume.


Government orders colleges to create hardship fund for students