Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO is cautioning the government not to go down false trails on the future of Ontario’s colleges.
OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is concerned the government is becoming too preoccupied with finding short-term answers to COVID-19, such as suspending international students from attending Ontario colleges and expanding online learning in the postsecondary education system, at the expense of thinking of the long-term sustainability of the college system.
“We’re concerned these kinds of ideas are being batted around, while the real issues aren’t being addressed,” said Thomas. “Our front-line members have the solutions. I would welcome a meeting with the government to map out a long-term plan for our public colleges.”
RM Kennedy, chair of the union’s College Faculty Division, says the way to ensure a sustainable future for the colleges is good jobs.
“If you want to have a rapid recovery, you can’t exclude international students. They’re a key element in the economic landscape, and they enrich our colleges,” said Kennedy. “The real solution to the crisis in our colleges is decent work for all, good jobs, vaccines and sick pay. The rest is nothing but distractions.”
The chair of the union’s college full-time support division said blocking international students runs the risk of unfairly making them a scapegoat.
“First we charge international students high tuition to subsidize the education of under-funded Canadian students,” said Janice Hagan. “Then we blame them for our pandemic numbers and prevent them from graduating. We already have strong safety precautions in place for testing and quarantining travelling students. There is no evidence to show that these strategies are not working.”
Denis Martinez, chair of the OPSEU/SEFPO division representing part-time support staff, says the government must look at the long game.
“Closing our colleges to international students won’t help in the long run,” said Martinez. “What will help? Vaccines, paid sick days for front-line workers and good secure jobs. Let’s keep the focus on those.”
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says public colleges are the key to training workers who will be needed as Ontario pulls itself out of the pandemic.
“Our public colleges are the solution to creating a trained workforce to provide first-class public services and to help the private sector bounce back from the pandemic,” said Almeida. The government shouldn’t get trapped into chasing its tail with knee-jerk reactions.”