Government says money for students will come from savings during faculty strike, but George Brown College say they haven’t saved much
While students might have been relieved to hear that there would be a hardship fund set up to cover some costs incurred during the college strike, it’s still not clear where the money will come from.
On Monday, the government announced that students impacted by the five-week long college faculty strike will be able to claim up to $500 for expenses such as child care, bus and train tickets and rent in January.
The Dialog has learned from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development that the government will not be investing any new money into the fund and that they expect colleges to pay for it from savings from the strike.
The problem, according to Colin Simpson interim executive dean at George Brown College (GBC), is that the college hasn’t saved much money as they kept the school open during the strike.
“We were still operating, we still had all of our ongoing expenses so it’s not like there’s a huge amount that has been saved as a result of this,” said Simpson.
When told that the government wouldn’t be giving the colleges any new money for the funds, Simpson said that he hadn’t heard that.
“If they’re thinking we can find it from the money that we saved, and hopefully we can, then that’s fine,” said Simpson. “If we can’t find it from the money that we saved then we have to have the discussion with the ministry.”
There are about 220,000 full-time students in the Ontario college system. If each student claimed the maximum of $500 it would cost $110 million. The ministry said that the exact amount of savings hasn’t been determined, but it is expected to be more than the previous strike in 2006, when $5 million was saved. If $5 million is available, that would leave just enough for $23 per student.
With over 29,000 full-time students, GBC could be on the hook for over $14.6 million if every student claims the $500 maximum.
Simpson said that the college will find the money.
“Regardless of how big or how small it is we’re going to make sure that we fulfill that promise that we’ve made to the students,” said Simpson.
Peggy Sattler, the New Democrats’ critic for advanced education, said that the $500 cap on reimbursements isn’t enough.
“Students are out a lot more than $500,” said Sattler. “So, we have been calling on the government to really get a handle on how much students have really been financially disadvantaged and then ensure that the hardship fund can address those real costs.”
Sattler said that the government has to take responsibility for the costs students incurred during the strike.
“We believe that the government has to shoulder a significant share of this responsibility because they had the legislative authority to intervene, to facilitate a resolution to this, before it even started and certainly once it appeared that there was any potential risk to students’ education.”
Patrick Brown, leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives is calling on the government to provide matching funds.
“The Wynne Liberals let the college strike drag on for far too long, putting students through unquestionable financial stress,” said Brown in a statement. “It’s good that the government is forcing colleges to set up this fund, but it’s time for the government to go one step forward and match this fund dollar for dollar.”
As previously reported in The Dialog, students at George Brown College will have to apply for the student support fund through either the financial aid office or the international centre, but no application form is currently available.
Students who withdraw from the college by Dec. 5 can get a tuition refund, but will have to re-apply for their program if they wish to continue their studies in the future.