The University of Ottawa calls for increased funding for Francophone post-secondary education in minority settings
The closure of programs taught in French and the layoff of some 100 members of the teaching staff at Laurentian University have generated strong feelings, and for good reason. It is a body blow, not only to Ontario’s Francophones, but also to Francophones across our country. It is also a reminder of the harsh reality experienced by Francophone post-secondary institutions in minority settings in Canada. Once again, recent events illustrate the precarity of their situation.
Franco-Ontarian communities, notably in Northern Ontario, can only flourish when their members have access to a high-quality education that promotes French as a language of work, education, creativity, health care, and business. The vitality and development of Franco-Ontarian communities relies on strong institutions. The Francophone students of today and tomorrow need to be able to pursue their studies entirely in French so that they can fully participate, in their mother tongue, in the society and economy of the 21st century.
The problem is clear: education in French in minority settings is underfunded. Despite repeated appeals to successive Ontario governments, nothing has been done to secure adequate core funding. But beyond core funding, one-time financing can also make a significant difference. In the spring of 2020, a consortium of all Francophone and bilingual universities in Ontario, including the University of Ottawa, submitted a request to the Ontario government for funding to facilitate a pooling of resources, most notably in terms of teaching technology, with a view to increasing the number of programs offered in French across the province. This request has yet to receive a response. We are convinced that an approach of this nature could be, at least in part, a way out of the current crisis. Clearly, we need to network to develop our collective ability to respond to the pressing needs of Francophones.
The University of Ottawa stands in solidarity with other bilingual and Francophone universities in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. Our institutions work together frequently and in close collaboration both in terms of teaching and research in French. For example, we provide training for Francophone teachers in Toronto and Windsor, and educate future Francophone law professionals in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Many of our courses now use a blended format (online and in person) which permits students to take them from elsewhere in Ontario.
Across Canada, the state of postsecondary education in French is worrisome. And in addition to chronic underfunding, it is also subject to provincial authorities who often fail to grasp the important role these institutions play in their respective communities. The recent saga of Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta is a case in point.
We again call on the provincial and federal governments to review and increase the funding allocated to Francophone and bilingual universities in minority settings to ensure their sustainability and to guarantee that Francophones have true access to high quality postsecondary education in French. The federal white paper on official languages recently tabled by Minister Mélanie Joly specifically aims for better funding for all levels of education, including postsecondary education. This is a step in the right direction.
More than ever, we need concrete action. The University of Ottawa is prepared to participate in the solution. The success of thousands of students, and the vitality of Francophone communities across Canada, depends on it. The time to act is now.
Jacques Frémont Sanni Yaya
President and Vice Chancellor Vice-President, International and Francophonie