Ontario college faculty went on strike the past weekend, affecting roughly 330,000 full- and part-time students at the 24 colleges in the province.
The main point of disagreement before instructors walked out was staffing. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents faculty, wanted to see an even 50-50 split of full- and part-time faculty – currently at 70 per cent part-time, according to OPSEU. As well as better pay, the union was asking for more job security.
The College Employer Council, which represents the colleges, told The Globe and Mail that union demands would add millions of dollars to the costs of running the schools.
However, the current setup has long played to the advantage of colleges across Canada, according to one expert.
"The things that the college faculty are going after … are actually some of the things that have been the colleges' strengths," says Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in regional innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan campus.
The capacity of colleges to adapt and adjust work forces according to market demands has long been a strong selling point of the system, he says. For example, if a new mining company is looking to hire talent, colleges can launch an operating training system and get people to the requisite standard in fairly short order.
However, he also acknowledges the issue of job uncertainty among instructors: "Who among us would not prefer a regular contract to a term contract?"