OPSEU urges Ford government to abandon destructive college-funding plan

“Just like Walmart decimated the main streets of so many Ontario communities and the livelihoods of so many workers, this plan will destroy Ontario’s beloved college system.” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Toronto (08 Dec. 2020) — Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the government’s plan to change the way colleges are funded will lead to lower-quality education, job cuts, and the outright disappearance of essential programs throughout the province.

Students will suffer under the new system

“Just like Walmart decimated the main streets of so many Ontario communities and the livelihoods of so many workers, this plan will destroy Ontario’s beloved college system,” said Thomas. “The Minister is forcing the colleges to focus on fighting each other instead of providing the best education to as many students as possible.”

“Smaller colleges will be under tremendous pressure, and students will suffer, especially those interested in social services and other fields where salaries tend to be lower, and where demand, as witnessed by this pandemic, is high,” said Thomas. “Fortunately, this disastrous plan doesn’t take effect for 2 years. That’s 2 years for the government to listen to reason and reverse course on this ham-fisted attempt to compare academics to an athletic playing field.”

New metrics will punish students in training for caring professions

The plan, announced by the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, proposes to change the way colleges are funded. Currently, they receive funding based on enrollment. But under the new plan, the bulk of their funding will be contingent on a set of “metrics,” including efficiencies and the amount students earn after graduating.

“We all know that efficiencies is a code word for front-line cuts and lower-quality programs,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “And basing funding on graduate earnings has an implied bias towards larger post-secondary institutions, giving those schools a home-field advantage where jobs are more plentiful.

“What will happen to programs for caring professions like Developmental Services Workers and Personal Support Workers, where the salaries tend to be lower. And how will these metrics apply to international students?” asked Almeida.

Almeida also noted that collecting data for the metrics will add red-tape expenses — money that would be better spent in classrooms.

Calling on college presidents to express their opposition

Thomas expressed concerns about the plan’s heavy focus on what are known as “micro-credentials,” which are generally short term and heavily specialized.

“There can be a place for micro-credentials, but all too often they’re just about providing training for precarious gig work,” said RM Kennedy, OPSEU College Faculty Division Chair. “Our colleges and universities are meant to give students a broad understanding of an industry so that they can go out and build a decent career. But a system based on micro-credentials just sets them up for a life struggling from one part-time contract to the next.”

“We’re calling on the presidents of the 24 colleges to join us in expressing their opposition to this ill-fated plan,” said Thomas. “Minister Romano needs to be acutely aware of his pay-for-performance plan.  From our experience with his office, this may come back to haunt him and his political staff one day.  I’d hate to see his ministry disappear altogether.” 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE