May 10, 2012

North Island College losing ‘face’

COURTENAY – North Island College is abandoning its satellite education centres in Gold River and Bella Coola.

The planned closures are a giant step in the wrong direction, according to CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill.  “The last thing these economically hard-hit communities need is reduced access to job training and post secondary education,” says O’Neill.  “We are leaving British Columbians in remote communities out in the cold at a time when they most need opportunities for quality education programs close to home.”.

The NIC satellite offices in Gold River and Bella Coola are slated to close June 20 as part of what the college calls ‘a new model for educational delivery in our more remote communities’. The offices are staffed by frontline CUPE members who provide face-to-face education and registration services.  As the only North Island College support staff in each community, they are the face and voice of the college.

Gold River Mayor Craig Anderson calls it “another empty storefront” adding that “now kids who want community college will have to rely on distance ed or leave town and incur the expense of going to Campbell River or Courtenay.” He says people in town are not happy about the closure. “This service was used and appreciated by the people of Gold River – to cut it loose saying there’s no money in it is wrong – it’s part of public education.”

CUPE Local 3479, which represents the support staff workers, says the priority should be the needs of the community. Local president Michelle Waite is calling for “a collaborative process with the communities, the affected employees and North Island College to discuss the future of these centres and ensure the entire community has the best possible access to learning.”  

The goal of the centres has always been better access to information, training, testing and post-secondary education. The two centre staff relay accurate course information to prospective students as well as processing of student registrations for North Island College. They oversee exams and order needed books and manuals.

The satellite centres are a portal to jobs from areas of high unemployment. But years of cuts by the college has seen many of the satellite campuses in smaller communities closed, staff cut and programs dropped.

The college steadily squeezed resources and hours of operation before announcing that “foot traffic at the centres…is not sufficient to warrant keeping the facility open.”   It says it will now rely on “demand-driven services to remote communities and will work in partnership with local community groups and organizations”.  Anderson said the reduced hours made it nearly impossible for people to use the centre effectively. 

North Island College was created in the 1970s by the provincial government in partnership with industry and employers with the aim of preparing students for employment. There were well-used satellite centres across Vancouver Island, including in Port McNeill, Alert Bay, Sointula, Tofino, Woss, Tahsis and Zeballos to serve an estimated 160,000 north islanders.

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