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Opposition calls for funding increases at Holland College

Holland College Prince of Wales Campus in Charlottetown.
Liberal MLA Robert Mitchell said he believes the recent staff layoffs and program cuts are a sign that funding to Holland College needs to be increased. - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The Opposition Liberals have called for an increase in funding for Holland College in response to recent staff layoffs and a suspension of five academic programs.

On Monday, Holland College announced the suspension of its dance performance, theatre performance, wood manufacturing, aircraft turbine technician and commercial diving programs.

The changes have affected 29 staff, four of whom have been laid off. The remaining 25 will experience a reduction in hours.

During question period on Tuesday, Liberal MLA Robert Mitchell asked Education Minister Brad Trivers several questions about the financial health of the college.  

"Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the budget is not reflecting their needs. Otherwise we would not be seeing program cuts and layoffs," Mitchell said.

"What are you doing to support the students and educators that will be affected by these cuts?"

Liberal MLA Robert Mitchell
Liberal MLA Robert Mitchell

 

In response, Trivers said his department works closely with Holland College but said it is an independent institution that determines its own budgetary priorities. 

"In fact, we did give them additional funds already in the budget to help with COVID and to help with the fall," Trivers said.

The recently tabled 2020-21 budget increased the operating grant to Holland College by $1.2 million, which represents about a four-per-cent increase. 

Trivers suggested the laid-off staff could be hired in the public school system.

"We're going to look to see what we can do to support them as well. We may need additional educators this fall in our Public Schools Branch, Mr. Speaker. And who knows, we may even be able to find a place for them there," Trivers said.

Education Minister Brad Trivers
Education Minister Brad Trivers

 

But in response to a question from Green education critic Karla Bernard, Trivers confirmed that post-secondary institutions on P.E.I., including Holland College, are expected to experience a drop in international enrolment.

"It's not a massive decrease in enrolment. International students were estimated to decrease by about a third," Trivers said.

"In terms of domestic enrolment, it was fairly flat."

This expected drop in enrolment will likely have a significant impact on the finances of both UPEI and Holland College.

Trivers said he would table precise figures about projected enrolment in the legislature.

Green education critic Karla Bernard
Green education critic Karla Bernard

In an interview, Mitchell said he has been asking for concrete plans from the Department of Education in the event of a drop in enrolment for weeks. He said the province needs to offer more funding to these institutions.

"We have to do what we need to do now to help the institutions, to prop them up during a time when it looks like their revenue is going to be down," Mitchell said.

During question period, Bernard referred to a 2018 PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by Holland College, that recommended a multi-year funding agreement between the province and the college.

"Has government reached an adequate multi-year funding agreement with Holland College?" Bernard asked.

In response, Trivers said that Holland College has “stepped up” in its management of its operations and budget in recent years.

"They've made sure that they remain viable and able to give the services that they require to students," Trivers said.

"The negotiations we've had with them, I believe, have resulted in something that's satisfactory for both parties."

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