Ontario’s francophone university ‘not concerned’ by low demand

New French-speaking campus attracts few applications but supporters defend its viability

February 12, 2021
Source: iStock

Ontario’s new francophone university has brushed aside concerns over its sustainability after it received fewer than 50 student applications for its first academic year and its rector resigned.

Critics have questioned the viability of the long-awaited Université de l’Ontario Français (UOF), which is set to open in the autumn, as well as the fact that public funding is being spent on a new institution at a time when existing universities are struggling during the pandemic. The federal and provincial governments agreed in September 2019 to jointly spend C$126 million (£77 million) establishing the institution over the next eight years.

Earlier this month, André Roy, who was formerly a dean at Concordia University, resigned as rector of the institution after less than six months in the role, citing personal reasons.

Denis Berthiaume, acting co-president and vice-rector for studies and research at the university, told Times Higher Education that it had received 48 applications as of 9 February, of which half were from prospective students overseas. The deadline for high school students in the province to submit applications via the Ontario Universities Application Center was 15 January.

However, Dr Berthiaume said he was “not concerned with these numbers”, noting that many successful universities had low enrolment figures in their first year and the institution would carry on accepting applications until the end of August. He added that the university’s first programmes were only approved by the government in October and it would be announcing new, more flexible programmes in the weeks to come.

“The last university to be created from scratch in Canada and in the province of Ontario was York University, which is the second-largest university in Toronto with about 55,000 students. In their first year in 1959, they had 67 students,” he said.

“Whatever figures we have in the end, we’ll start with those people, provide them the best learning experience that we can and use them as ambassadors to attract more people the following year and the third year.”

Marc Johnson, president and consulting sociologist at Socius Research & Consulting, who headed the development of the first set of academic programmes at UOF, said that the institution had been expecting an enrolment of about 200 students in the first year “but then the pandemic came”.

He added that the innovative model of the institution – which is focusing on transdisciplinary, problem-based programmes and experimental pedagogy – “increases the struggle” but he was not concerned about the long-term sustainability of the university, given that government funding was “secured”.

Sylvie Bérard, associate professor in French and francophone studies at Ontario’s Trent University, said that she was “disappointed” to learn about the low application figures but “not completely surprised given the conditions under which UOF was opening”.

“Besides the fact that the university launched its first registration process in the midst of a pandemic…there were a certain number of programmes that UOF could not offer to prevent any overlap with other institutions,” she said.

“In any case, this first year of registration should not suffice to define the sustainability of the whole project.”


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