Image: Facebook/Save Our VCC

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporter of

Vancouver Community College’s East Van campus sits a few blocks away from Broadway and Commercial, an historic epicenter of activism and urban vitality. And VCC educators, staff and students say Vancouver’s best post-secondary option for low-income and ESL students is under threat of crippling cuts driven by a privatization agenda.

Late last year, the B.C. Liberal government announced it would cut tuition-free ESL and basic adult education (ABE), which saw fees spike from $0 to $1,600 per semester. Enrollment plummeted, leading to layoffs and a further $3.5 million budget cut to the core funding of VCC, British Columbia’s biggest provider of adult education.

A director of VCC’s student union, Ghezal Durrani, called it “death by a thousand cuts” in a press release. According to Save our VCC, a new campaign fighting the budget cuts and layoffs, ESL and adult education have suffered 120 layoffs in the past two years, with more expected next March.

“That is when the so-called transition funding for ESL and ABE will run out,” Chris Joyce, president of CUPE 4627, the non-teaching local at VCC, told “It looks now [like] we are expecting the closure of ESL and ABE.” This, says Joyce, would effectively close down VCC’s developmental education program.

VCC boasts a 96 per cent graduate employment rate. The majority of its students are new Canadians and three-quarters are women. Its East Van and downtown campuses have served Vancouver’s low-income, working-class and newly arrived residents for 50 years.

If the once-publicly funded program disappears, Vancouverites who need English-language training or adult education will have to look elsewhere — either to BCIT, an institution with a different focus, or, more likely, to private, unregulated institutions with less institutional support and fewer qualified instructors. Many of these for-profit institutions have also been accused of mercenary and exploitative practices.

And opponents of the cuts have reason to be suspicious something more is in the cards. Andrew Wilkinson, the Minister of Advanced Education, ended the tenure of “the most active” members of the board of governors, according to Joyce — and reappointed those who remained for only one-year terms, instead of the usual two- or three-year terms.

Joyce claims that faculty and staff remained in the dark over the government’s and VCC administration’s plans for the future of VCC. Letters from both the faculty association and the non-teaching staff union about those plans went unanswered by Wilkinson. Until, that is, they read about it in the paper.

Wilkinson sent an emailed comment to the Vancouver Sun, claiming “the college is updating a master campus plan to look at the educational needs of future students are met in the delivery of core programs.”

“That was the first time we had ever heard that there was a master campus plan being developed,” Joyce told me. “And in our opinion that tends to confirm our fears.” The writing on the wall suggests a massive reduction in size or a merger with another institution.

As if that’s not bad enough, the Save Our VCC campaign is worried the ground might be sold out from under its feet. VCC is located in extremely valuable land in a city with predatory developers with close links to municipal and provincial governments.

“A large part of the downtown campus is out for lease,” says Joyce. “The college board actually contracted with a real estate broker and has been for about a year trying to temporarily lease part of the space.” 

VCC celebrated its 50th anniversary in August.  East Van is dangerously close to losing a crucial part of its community — one that serves low-income and immigrant communities.

You can declare your support for Vancouver Community College here.


Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporter of

Image: Facebook/Save Our VCC

Michael Stewart

Michael Stewart

Michael Stewart is the blogs coordinator at and a freelance writer. He is a bad editor, a PhD dropout and a union thug. He lives in Victoria, B.C. Follow him on Twitter @m_r_stewart