The group representing Ontario colleges and the union representing striking faculty members are expected to return to the bargaining table Thursday.

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews said in the legislature at Queen’s Park Wednesday that talks are expected to resume tomorrow.

“I am delighted that the two sides are back at the table,” Matthews told reporters. “It’s a very good step, it’s not a final solution though. We need to get an agreement, we need to get students back into the classroom where they want to be.”

In a statement Wednesday, the College Employer Council, which represents the colleges in negotiations, said it would like to resume bargaining on Thursday.

“This strike has gone on for too long. We need to end the strike and get our students and faculty back in the classroom,” college bargaining chair Sonia Del Missier said in a statement. “We can reach a settlement quickly and have classes start again early next week. We will focus our efforts at the table and work very hard to reach a deal that ends the strike.”

The College Employer Council said it will not be making any further statements on bargaining.

Thousands of faculty members at Ontario’s 24 colleges have been on strike since Oct. 16 after the sides were unable to reach a new deal for faculty.

College representatives have previously expressed frustration, saying that faculty rejected a “good deal.”

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents the faculty, contends that the colleges have declined to bring their deal directly to faculty for a vote because they know it isn’t good enough to be accepted and have urged for a return to bargaining.

OPSEU has said that about 70 per cent of college faculty members are contract workers and the union would like to see a 50/50 ratio. Increased job security and having more input in academic decision-making are also points the union has fought for.

OPSEU did not immediately comment on plans to resume bargaining.

The strike has meant that classes have been cancelled for roughly 500,000 students and student leaders welcomed the news that bargaining will resume.

“What we’re hoping for is that once they get back to the table tomorrow, they get a deal done as soon as possible,” Abdullah Mushtaq of the College Student Alliance told CP24 Wednesday.

He said students have been “a third party in a two-sided negotiation” and have been doing whatever they can to pressure the sides to return to the table.

“It’s time for them to get a deal done. Students want to be back in the classroom as soon as we can. If we don’t see a deal by Wednesday, CSA is going to be calling for an arbitrator so that students can get back in the classroom as soon as possible.”

Speaking with reporters, Matthews acknowledged that the strike has been difficult for students and said she too wants to see a speedy resolution.

“They‘ve been caught in the middle and I want to tell them we’re doing everything we can to get them back in the classroom,” Matthews said. “They’ve got a job to do, which is to get their college education and I would love to see the resolution of this as quickly as possible.”

Some of those students, angry over the cancellations, have demanded in an online petition that they be reimbursed. Many of the colleges have responded that students will be given an opportunity to complete the proper semester, but may have to do so by cutting into planned vacation time.