Vancouver Community College’s ESL students left in the lurch

Signage from ESL Matters campaign. | Photo by Estefania Duran.

Signage from ESL Matters campaign. | Photo by Estefania Duran.

The termination of federal funding for ESL programs could prevent some students from maximizing their employment opportunities, in turn damaging British Columbia’s economy as a whole.

Karen Shortt, president of the Faculty Association at VCC.

Karen Shortt, president of the Faculty Association at VCC.

According to Karen Shortt, president of the Faculty Association at Vancouver Community College (VCC), these cuts have created uncertainty for some and worry for many, both students and teachers. Consequent to the federal government’s budget cuts, the ESL program offered through VCC will reach its end in mid-December 2014 after 50 years of being in operation.

“This will be the largest layoff in post-secondary history in Canada with 72 instructors receiving notice – wiping out 25 per cent of VCC’s staff,” says Shortt.

In addition to mass layoffs of VCC’s staff, many students will be displaced. Shortt estimated that nearly 3,000 students sign up for VCC’s ESL program each term. This figure clearly displays the high demand for this service within the community. Without federal funding, the ESL program will not have the budget to provide this essential service to new immigrants.

“ESL training is a crucial part of immigrants’ lives in Canada,” says Saeideh Ghaffarifar, who has been enrolled in the ESL program at VCC for two terms.

Ghaffarifar further explained the necessity of strong English skills in Canada’s competitive job market.

“Without ESL training, no applicant can even fully comprehend a job posting. Strong written and oral skills are essential for international applicants to be able to compete with other Canadians who obviously do not need English training,” she says.

Although new immigrants may be well educated and capable of contributing to the Canadian economy, the lack of proper English skills decreases their ability to obtain gainful employment and can lower their earning potential. According to Nimmi Takkar of the ESL Matters campaign, 60 per cent of ESL students have degrees from outside of Canada.

Other programs and continuing ESL studies

Other ESL programs exist, such as ELSA (English Language Services for Adults) and LINC (Language Instruction for New Canadians). However, Shortt explains that these programs are focused on conversational English as opposed to “business-level” English skills. Additionally, programs such as LINC are restricted to permanent residents. As such, many students in the ESL program at VCC may not be eligible to enroll in these programs or benefit from this type of learning structure.

While students have the option of taking ESL studies at a fee-based institution, such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), the tuition fees may prove to be too much of a financial burden for new immigrants. To complete the ESL program through BCIT, an average student would spend approximately $15,000 in tuition fees, whereas the program at VCC is free for Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

On its website VCC has included a link to alternative sources for ESL training. For further information, please see “ESL Update for Students” at