Ontario colleges roll out revised semester plans as faculty strike drags on

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Some colleges are providing day-to-day updates about particular accommodations for students

Students around the province have expressed frustration about the possibility they could lose their semesters as the faculty strike continues.

Nearly four weeks into work action by faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges, institutions have started to roll out revised schedules and policies to accommodate students facing financial costs due to the strike.

Schools throughout the province informed students this week that the fall semester will be extended into the week starting Dec. 18, with some colleges finishing as late as Dec. 22.

At Toronto’s Centennial College, administration anticipates that barring a “miracle” the fall semester will likely push into the New Year despite the extension, according to Mark Toljagic, the school’s communications officer. 

Sudbury’s Cambrian College has already informed students that the fall semester won’t end until Jan. 15. If the strike extends beyond Nov. 24, that date may change, the school warned on its website. 

George Brown College also outlined a new academic calendar on Friday stating the fall semester will end on Jan. 16. But this change is contingent on the strike not extending past Nov. 17.

Throughout the strike, some colleges have been providing daily updates to students online. This week a more detailed picture emerged of how some of the schools plan to deal with the disruption to the year.

The work action will likely go on for at least another week, as striking faculty is slated to vote online on an offer from the colleges from Nov. 14 to 16. Results won’t be announced until a few days later, though the union has directed its members to vote “no” — raising the prospect that the strike could continue for weeks. 

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“As the strike extends each day, there are new issues to deal with,” said Toljagic of the effort to keep costs at a minimum for students, many of whom already fear they could miss out on employment and placement opportunities. 

George Brown has decided to cancel its spring reading week, for example.

“This proposed change was made to address a worst-case scenario,” the school’s website reads, an allusion to the possibility that the strike could be ongoing come late February. 

“We know these changes will negatively impact students’ holiday plans, work schedules, study and rest periods, and we’re sorry for this. Our main goal is to preserve the academic year and ensure students receive the full education experience they paid for, and that means we’ve had to make difficult decisions,” the FAQ page said. 

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One issue that is top of mind for students commenting on social media are holiday travel costs, with many suggesting their plans were in place before they were informed that the fall semester would run long.

As a result, multiple colleges, including George Brown and Centennial, have committed to reimbursing students any costs associated with cancelling or changing travel arrangements, as long as those plans were confirmed prior to notification. 

Colleges were variably advising students to check with administration before cancelling or changing any plans, or hold off on making any travel arrangements at all until individual exam schedules can be worked out. 

But for some students, like Tiffany Lane who attends George Brown, that’s not what they want, with many still pressing schools for a refund. 

“I think a refund would be great because we’ve missed so many weeks so far of class,” she told CBC Toronto. 

“We’re not learning what we should be learning. I know a lot of people who said they’d like to restart the semester as well.”

For international students, some institutions have also committed to reimbursing the costs of extending permits required to continue studying in Canada. 

In October, a group of students started a petition to demand a tuition refund if their semesters were to be lost to the protracted strike. The message from colleges is mainly one of wait and see.

“We know this issue is on everyone’s mind. No decision will be made on tuition refunds in the short term. Our expectation is that you’ll be able to complete your semester, and that includes work placements,” George Brown College’s website advises students. 

For its part, Centennial points out that “no Ontario college student has ever lost their semester because of a strike.”

In the meantime, Ontario’s Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews ordered striking colleges on Friday to create a fund to assist students experiencing financial hardship due to the faculty strike.

While it’s not clear how large the dedicated fund will be, Matthews explained it will be made up of unpaid wages to striking staff and other savings from not operating the schools.

The work action began on Oct. 16 after contract negotiations soured. Striking faculty say the number of part-time teachers, influence over course content and equal work for equal pay are the primary points of contention. 

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