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Camosun College faces layoffs after losing chunk of federal funding

Camosun College could be forced to lay off faculty next year as it struggles to erase a projected $5-million shortfall and balance its budget. The college received word last week that it will lose about $2.
Camosun College generic
Camosun officials were told last week that they will lose about $2.5 million in federal money for teaching English as a second language to domestic students and new Canadians.

Camosun College could be forced to lay off faculty next year as it struggles to erase a projected $5-million shortfall and balance its budget.

The college received word last week that it will lose about $2.5 million in federal money for teaching English as a second language to domestic students and new Canadians.

The news stunned college officials already struggling with a potential $2.5-million deficit in 2014-15 due to rising costs and the B.C. government’s previously announced cuts to post-secondary education.

“This is clearly a very difficult time — please extend patience to your colleagues who are most directly impacted and know that we are all reeling from this announcement,” Camosun president Kathryn Laurin wrote in an urgent message to faculty and staff.

Joan Yates, Camosun’s vice-president communications, said the college is still trying to understand the latest cut. Camosun pegs the cost of its ESL programs for domestic students at $1.3 million, so officials are puzzled why they will lose nearly double that amount. ESL programs for international students will not be affected.

“This is all very fluid right now,” Yates said.

Kelly Pitman, an English teacher and president of the Camosun faculty association, expects layoffs if the cuts proceed.

“It looks like ESL education will be the primary target, which is tragic,” she said. “That would be 10 to 15 faculty members losing their jobs and 200 to 300 students who would no longer have that education.”

Pitman said ESL training is life-changing for many immigrants. “I’ve taught students who came to this country who were engineers when they got here. They just need the language training to be able to compete and work in the workplace.”

She said the decision flies in the face of the B.C. government’s emphasis on skills training. “I feel like they’re abandoning some of the citizens whom they most need to make the economy go.”

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk blamed the cuts on a federal decision to deliver ESL programs through non-profit and community groups rather than post-secondary institutions as of April 1. Colleges and universities will lose about $17 million that was used to deliver ESL training to more than 9,000 students last year, he said.

Camosun is one of the hardest hit schools because it has the second largest number of full-time equivalent ESL students behind only Vancouver Community College.

Virk said his ministry tried to convince the federal government to let post-secondary schools keep the money and the programs. “We were unsuccessful in that lobby.”

He said the province must work with colleges to alleviate the impact of the federal decision on students and staff. “I’m reassured that students will continue to receive the training; I’m just not sure the manner in which they’re going to receive that training.”

NDP critic David Eby said Virk should do more to protect the services instead of simply accepting the federal decision.

“It’s really not enough for the province to shrug and say, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do,’ when you’re talking about basic skills for people to integrate in British Columbia society and our economy.”

Eby said ESL programs already suffering from a lack of provincial government support “are going to collapse under this decision because the province has starved them for so many years.”

lkines@timescolonist.com