Toronto – The union representing thousands of members in Ontario’s publicly funded colleges and universities is welcoming funds the province is offering the postsecondary education sector to cope with the financial hit of COVID-19.

“We commend the government for recognizing the importance of investing in the public sector when our colleges and universities are hurting due to COVID.  We are also facing the challenge of private colleges trying to encroach on the public system,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “OPSEU/SEFPO will keep engaging the government in productive talks to guarantee the sustainability of our public postsecondary system.”

The province has offered a total of $106.4 million to the 24 public colleges and 22 public universities it funds.

“We welcome any additional investments in public postsecondary education,” said RM Kennedy, chair of the OPSEU College Faculty Divisional Executive, “But this investment can’t begin to meet the need. Eleven colleges lack a full-time academic faculty librarian but offer critical programs with research components. We’re facing constant pressure to shrink or outsource our counselling services even as record numbers of students come to us with mental health crises.”

The chair of the OPSEU/SEFPO College Support Divisional Executive, Janice Hagan, said she is pleased the government has recognized there is a crisis in the colleges. “Some of our medium- and small-sized colleges have been hit very hard with cuts and layoffs since the pandemic. We hope this funding will help those colleges bring our members back as soon as possible to do their important work supporting students.”

College Part-Time Support Divisional Executive Chair Denis Martinez also believes more is needed. “The pandemic has hit my members really hard, with massive layoffs and hours cut,” she said. ”Some of this new money needs to go to bringing back laid-off members, restoring hours of work and providing these precarious workers with paid sick days.”

OPSEU/SEFPO Local 677 President Geoffrey Hudson is a university faculty member and belongs to the union’s Universities Division, representing over 6,000 members. He notes that the media is correct in laying out the dire financial situation universities find themselves in.

“It’s clear we’ll need far more investment to stay afloat. I’m appalled that Laurentian, the most seriously impacted university, is facing insolvency right now but is alone in receiving no funding whatsoever. The government must provide immediate additional resources to Laurentian. It also needs to sit down with all of us to have a very serious conversation about the further investments needed to sustain and enhance the education and research in our universities that’s so vital for Ontario’s economic future.”

“Colleges are the best job recovery program out there right now,” said OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “They’re going to make or break our recovery. For every dollar you invest in them, you get $10 back in taxes. It’s time the government realized that and funded them properly.”

Thomas agreed, noting that a big investment is needed to make up for historical shortfalls in postsecondary education to drive the post-pandemic recovery. “I’ve been saying it for years, and it’s truer now than ever: A key to Ontario’s success lies in educating a workforce able to respond to the challenges of a constantly changing economy.

“There’s no free lunch, no magic bullet. Let’s get the money in the public postsecondary system – right now.”