The Ontario Colleges strike continues, leaving students and their semesters in the lurch. The strike, which began October 16, has surpassed its third week, leaving students and faculty worried that there has been too much time lost.
On-going negotiations involving the employment of over 12,000 full-time and part-time faculty across 24 Ontario colleges have been underway between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), and Ontario colleges. OPSEU has asked for the number of full-time faculty to match that of the part-time faculty members on contract. However colleges are stating that this will end up adding over $250 million additional costs each year. Ontario colleges have offered a four year agreement with a 7.5 per cent pay increase.
While conversations continue between OPSEU and Ontario colleges, many students are left feeling excluded from the dialogue.
“I don’t think the students were taken into consideration when the strike started,” says Sara Meshmesh, a second year Broadcasting for Radio, Television and Film student at Niagara College. “Our education is suffering and we’re all in constant fear of losing our year and losing opportunities to become better in our fields.”
While the prospect of losing the semester becomes more of a reality for many students, Niagara College has been working on plans to avoid an entire loss. This is partly due to the reading week vacation that occurred during the three week strike, lessening the amount of time students have lost in the classroom. Additionally, the Niagara College communications Manager Mike Wales, in an interview, stated the school is “committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to complete their semester/program, and are currently in the process of developing comprehensive semester completion plans for all programs.”
While the week of vacation does lessen the time lost during the semester for Niagara College students, the same can’t be said for all college institutions, and cramming the time lost may not be beneficial to their learning overall. This is notable for health programs like the paramedic program which losing valuable class time could be a problem in the workforce.
Semester extensions into the summer months are an option, but will likely leave many students in a difficult position as many have leases that run out in April.
Fanshawe College has already extended its fall semester late into December to make up for lost time, only closing between December 23 and January 1 for the holidays. Students have been asked to hold off making any holiday plans in the interim until a solution to the strike is given.
Kathleen Wynne has also not ruled out the possibility of back-to-work legislation in an effort to end the Ontario Colleges strike. This legislation could prove a significant blow to the efforts of the striking faculty if it would be put in place. For now, Wynne continues to push for a conclusion to the negotiations without interrupting the faculty’s right to strike.
Despite Wynne’s effort to avoid invoking back-to-work legislation, some students at Algonquin College, through the Student’s Association, have taken matters into their own hands through organizing letter-writing campaigns aimed towards MPPs in an effort to put pressure on colleges to end the strike and get students back in classes.
There was an assembly of students from 12 local colleges that staged a protest of the strike at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
For some Niagara College students, the prospect of whether the semester can be saved or not is difficult.
“All the money I’ve spent in getting a proper education is going to waste,” Meshmesh states. “After three weeks, I’ve lost motivation to even further my education and it’s frustrating.”
“Because I’m in a one year graduate program, I run on 7-block classes. We have a set schedule for 7 weeks then it changes completely for another 7 weeks,” says Alyssia, a Brock University graduate and current Niagara College student. “If this strike hadn’t started, I would have finished up my first set of classes and been well in my second set. Whenever we do get back from this strike, I’ll be forced to take exams for old classes while I’m taking other classes which just causes a lot more unnecessary stress.”
As of this publishing Niagara College announced when the strike does end, they will extend the semester to Dec. 22 and that their second term should start as early as Jan. 2. This is to ensure that the winter semester will have to go into the Spring/Summer term. Other schools have yet to indicate their plans.