Rally calls on province to restore ESL funding

Saeideh Ghaffarifar wants to return to her career as a family physician. “If I want to work as a medical doctor here, I need to understand every word of my patients,” said Ghaffarifar, who entered Canada as a skilled worker.

The woman, who emigrated from Iran with her family has been improving her English at Vancouver Community College, plans to take an English for health professionals course and then take a pharmacy technician course at VCC so she can work in her field while she secures credentials to become a doctor in Canada.

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“I chose VCC because of its reputation as the best place to learn English,” Ghaffarifar said.

But Karen Shortt, president of VCC’s Faculty Association, says VCC has 44 per cent of the funding it had last year to offer English as a second language courses in the upcoming fiscal year.

Ghaffarifar is worried she won’t be able to continue as planned. The 40-year-old resident of North Vancouver spoke in front of 300 people at a rally at VCC’s East Broadway campus Tuesday lunchtime to launch the ESL Matters campaign, which calls on Premier Christy Clark and Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk to restore full funding to ESL training at VCC. Langara College and other post-secondary institutions are also affected.

Shortt says the federal government announced two years ago that it would no longer transfer money to B.C. to fund ESL courses at post-secondary institutions.

A provincial press release says the federal government favours a model where Citizen and Immigration Canada would fund ESL programs through non-profit settlement organizations and a limited number of post-secondary institutions. The old Canada-B.C. Immigration Agreement ends April 1.

CIC told the Courier in an email the federal government wants to make sure immigrants can access the same level of services regardless of where they choose to settle. CIC says provinces supplement “general, multipurpose” CIC-funded language classes by funding post-secondary institutions to provide “more advanced ESL programming focusing on specialized streams.”

The provincial government announced $10.5 million in “one-time funding” last month as part of “an initial transition plan the ministry has developed with public post-secondary institutions and the federal government,” according to a government press release.

VCC, the largest provider of ESL training in Western Canada, received $4.76 million, the largest amount.

Shortt said Virk seemed surprised to learn two weeks ago that $4.76 million constitutes 44 per cent of the money VCC had to offer ESL classes last year.

According to Shortt, Virk said the government could undertake a gap analysis, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. She’s requested another meeting.

“It is the province’s responsibility to fund adult education so we think the province has a critical role here that they need to fulfill,” she said.

Shortt said 40 per cent of VCC’s offerings are ESL courses so funding cuts spell drastic class reductions and layoffs. Shortt said VCC serves 3,000 ESL students per term with more waitlisted.

An Advanced Education representative said Virk couldn’t speak to the Courier before its press deadline.

Speakers at the rally included VCC’s student council chairperson, president of the Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Federation of Labour and Vancouver-Point Grey NDP MLA David Eby.

Eby said highly trained immigrants need more than conversation courses. “To get that academic level of English to be an engineer, to be a doctor, to be a nurse, it’s not something you’re going to pick up at a small non-profit organization,” he said. “When you move from an introductory English course into advanced English and then into the skills training at the college, at the same institution, it’s the perfect system.”

CIC says it has increased settlement funding to B.C. from $39.5 million in 2005-2006 to $100.6 million in 2013-2014.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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