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Nov 28 2017
by Jamie Su

6 Ontario Students Describe What It's Like Going Back to School After the Five-Week Strike

By Jamie Su - Nov 28 2017

It's been a long battle for Ontario college students. After five weeks of protests, disagreements and negotiations between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council, students in Ontario were finally able to return to their classrooms and resume their education on November 21st

The college labour strike began on October 15 when the OPSEU informed students that the college strike would begin the next day

JP Hornick, the chair of the union bargaining team, mentioned that “[o]n October 14, [they] presented Council with a streamlined offer that represented what faculty consider to be the bare minimum [they] need to ensure quality education for students and treat contract faculty fairly. [They] carefully crafted a proposal that responded to Council’s concerns about costs in a fair and reasonable way. Unfortunately, Council refused to agree on even the no-cost items, such as longer contracts for contract faculty and academic freedom. This [left them] with no choice but to withdraw [their] services until such time as [their] employer [was] ready to negotiate seriously.”

From the OPSEU's perspective, Hornick argued that the Council "[was] committed to a 'Walmart model of education' based on reducing the role of full-time faculty and exploiting underpaid contract workers who have no job security beyond one semester."

Furthermore, on November 17, college faculty released a letter to Ontario college students titled, "Faculty stand with students," explaining the reason why the strike had to occur, as well as other pressing information that students wanted answers to.

Despite both parties finally coming to an agreement and resuming school, the frustration continues to grow amongst students due to the immense workload, major disruption, academic worries and financial issues they face this term. Students who have unenrolled from the term during the strike or have chosen to do so now will receive a full refund for their tuition, but not all students are that lucky. According to The London Free Press, continuing students, both full-time and international students, will be able to apply for a reimbursement of up to $500 for unexpected costs. However, some are saying that this isn't enough. Additionally, students currently enrolled in the school term will also have their Christmas breaks shortened. For a full list of updates on the 2017 college faculty strike in Ontario, click here

As there continues to be many worries for students, as the long break from school has caused them both financial and academic worries, some students are even at risk of missing required entrance exams and not meeting apprenticeship hours. Hence, it's important to gain insight on student opinions as ultimately, their educations and future plans are what is being disrupted. Listed below are six Ontario college students who have provided their input on the situation and what it's like returning to school after the long halt.

1. Elliot M.*, Sheridan College

"Not going to school for five weeks feels like a real academic set back for me personally. Like most of my classmates, I did not do a lot of studying past the week when we were supposed to have our midterms, so a good portion of the more difficult material was forgotten. This means not only are we going to have to figure out the new material, but we are also going to have to re-figure out all the old material we struggled with before. The amount of work that is to be done in the shorter amount of time is extremely stressful. It is good that us students are at least being financially compensated a little bit as we are ultimately the ones who suffered the most because of the strike. 

"I do not like the fact that [the Christmas break is being shortened and the term is being extended] as it will only add to the amount of stress us students are going to be put through. That being the only other alternative I can think of is cancelling the semester, which I don't think most people want, so I understand why we have to do this."

2. Daniel Jose Morillo Lemus, Humber College

"Well, financially, it affected me because it was five weeks out of a four-month semester, so I kind [of] want my money back. Academically, it didn't [affect me] that much because my teachers suspended all quizzes, tests and assignments we had. [It's] definitely weird [going back to school], I didn't have enough in-class time to get used to college. I didn't feel the fact that they shortened the Christmas break was a big deal, but definitely, [the fact] that the term was extended pissed me off."

3. Alex P.*, Fanshawe College

"The process of the five-week strike was stressful and inconvenient. While I understand the motives of the teachers for using their right of strike action, it felt as though the students were forced into a position where their education was at risk and their future was held as a bargaining chip. Not to mention, there was a lack of communication between the college and the students, so updates on the strike and their education were few and in-between. It's somewhat bittersweet [being back at school]. It's going to be back in a state of productivity where we can work towards our future, but at this point, the students feel as though they've been taken out of the school environment long enough for it to be almost jarring to try and catch up on our lost time. I'm fine with the term being extended, but the shortened break really puts a damper on my schedule. I wanted to go back home to visit my family overseas, but a ticket is way too expensive to only spend a week there."

4. John Dela Cruz, Sheridan College

"It's a really stressful situation. Assignments [are] due on top of each other and it's so unorganized. At this point, I'm just not in a learning mood since it's been such a long timespan of not being in school. I'm not even eligible for [receiving up to $500 for reimbursements] since I live with my parents, which is a five-minute walk away. It's still unfair because I paid my tuition with my own personal money and knowing that I won't be getting a refund is just ridiculous. Honestly, it ruined Christmas plans for all students, especially for international students. Some can't even go back to their families because of how unorganized the dates are and how small of a break it is."

5. Rachel W.*, Humber College

"I think the amount of time the government allowed this to go on for was ridiculous; they should [have] ended it way sooner as we have lost half of our semester. I am with faculty on why they went on strike and I understand the importance of the strike, but I feel as though it could and should [have] been handled better as to not have us out in limbo for so long. At first, I was very worried about my academic and financial needs as my tuition was over $1900 and it was my first semester of first year. I was ready and excited to be in school. I then had to deal with the burden of not knowing if I would pass my first year due to this or get my money back as that is a large amount of money that seemed not worth it during the strike. I was rather worried about passing as I have seven classes– that's seven different professors trying to get all of their content across in a very cramped amount of time. I think my school did an amazing and reasonable semester adjustments. 

"I personally do not feel as though [a $500 reimbursement] is enough. I do not pay rent, but I know people who pay $800 or more in rent to go to my school and they now have to stay and pay an extra month because of this strike. I personally am not affected by this shortened Christmas break. I once again do know many people who now can't fly home and see their families because of it though, and that is not fair to them at all."

6. Hazel L.*, Niagara College

"It was very frustrating for the student[s] who were not able to do anything about the strike and the fact that they were not able to go to school to get the education that they deserve and they paid for. It was also stressful not knowing what was going to happen and that the term could possibly get cancelled, but teachers are doing their best to keep us organized and helping us catch up with all the weeks we missed. However, this includes teaching some lectures quicker than expected and cancelling some assignments and making others weigh more. 

"[Receiving up to $500 for reimbursements] is better than nothing. Most people went home during the strike and lost money paying for rent. However, it is not much considering that most people pay more than $500 for rent as well as other expenses. It is good that the term is extended so that we can catch up on work without it being very crammed in a short amount of time, but it is sad that the Christmas break is going to be very short and many plans are going to be cancelled, including family time and travels."

Although there have been many reports about the conclusion to the five-week strike and the continuation of the school term, it isn't the end as Ontario college students continue to fight for compensations due to all the hardships they face as a result of this strike. It's important to keep the conversation going and have better communication between students and college faculty to work towards a more tentative and satisfying resolution.

Note: Names with an asterisk (*) have been changed to protect the students' identity.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Jamie Su - University of Waterloo

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