Federal government cuts English Language Training Program by $20 million

Post-secondary institutions now compete for limited ESL program funding

By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer

In 2013, it was decided that funding originally allocated by the federal government to the Social Transfer for English Language Training (ELT) and English Language Services for Adults (ELSA) would instead be put up for a proposal bidding process. This means that about $20-million normally allocated to the provincial government for English as a Second Language (ESL) programs largely at post-secondary institutions is now opened up to private and community organizations as well.

“What this means is that it’s $20-million that the federal government is not giving to BC to provide to public institutions to provide English Language Training,” says Tracy Ho, College Relations and Membership Outreach Coordinator at the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU).

The concern with post-secondary institutions such as Douglas College and Camosun College competing for funding with private institutions, says Ho, is the quality of the language training. With many students wanting to transfer to post-secondary institutions to continue their education, there are concerns that many of the private institutions won’t provide proper accreditation.

Vancouver Community College (VCC) is among the largest providers of ESL training in BC. VCC provided 46 per cent of the training in the program which allowed ESL students to study English tuition-free.

Karen Shortt, president of the VCC faculty association, released a statement saying, “There are a significant number of immigrants who need much more than the skills attainable through ELSA if they are to contribute to BC’s economy to the fullest extent possible. However, since most colleges and universities focus on International Education, VCC stands out as by far the largest, most important provider of ESL training for immigrants.”

There are growing concerns about the socio-economic impact of the cuts in funding. “If you separate ELT and take it out of the college community you’re really siloing the new immigrants into these little spaces where it’s just new immigrants,” says Ho. “Whereas if you provide ELT in a setting like a community college, they’re being integrated into an environment where they can make connections with students that maybe have grown up here.”

Last week, Douglas College’s vice-president of academic and provost Kathy Denton stated in an Education Council meeting that there is no news in terms of whether or not Douglas College has received the funding.

“If there’s no funding, there is a potential for loss for faculty and staff and obviously the program won’t exist for students at Douglas College anymore. So that’s a huge problem,” stated Ho.

Douglas College is pairing with the Canadian Federation of Students and the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators to create a campaign lobbying the provincial government to fill the funding gap. Since BC is the last province to have these changes implemented, the DSU believes it would be very difficult to lobby “because they have already made sweeping changes across the country,” says Ho.

“Some people have analyzed [the decision] as the federal government creating a system where private organizations can bid for this money, and some of the analysis is that it’s the federal government is in a way securing loyalties from certain immigrant communities,” says Ho. “For instance if there’s a large community organization out there that helps new immigrants settle and they get a big chunk of money from the federal government, it’s in a way trying to secure that loyalty to them. It’s securing new immigrants’ loyalty to this current government.”