Sciences in doubt as Ontario gets French-speaking campus

Long-awaited francophone university in largest Canadian province to emphasise humanities

September 16, 2019
Source: Getty
Science shortfall Ontario’s current leading provider of French-language higher education, the University of Ottawa, has welcomed the planned Université de l’Ontario Français while expressing concern that it still isn’t enough, especially in the sciences

Canada and Ontario are moving ahead after long delays with plans for a university to serve the 600,000 French-speaking residents of the nation’s largest province, although with a possible major omission in the sciences.

The agreement by the federal and provincial governments calls for them to jointly spend C$126 million (£77 million) establishing the 2,000-student institution in the greater Toronto area over the next eight years.

The pact is a long-awaited victory for francophones outside Quebec, the only Canadian province with a French-speaking majority, especially after Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, previously blocked the idea.

To make the deal happen, the federal government agreed to pay all costs for the first four years of construction, with Ontario promising to repay the money if it does not eventually come up with its half.

The planned Université de l’Ontario Français means Ontario will have “a high quality, modern, postsecondary education system that is aligned with labour market needs”, the province’s ministers of French affairs and of universities, Caroline Mulroney and Ross Romano, said in a joint statement.

Ontario’s current leading provider of French-language higher education, the University of Ottawa, welcomed the development while expressing concern that it still isn’t enough, especially in the sciences.

The University of Ottawa’s president, Jacques Frémont, said that the agreement “is wonderful news for the francophone community of Ontario, francophones and francophiles across Canada and for all Canadians”.

But a university official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Université de l’Ontario Français will be “mainly focused on humanities and not STEM-related studies”, meaning science and engineering.

The University of Ottawa has, “on many occasions”, given the provincial government proposals to increase French-language teaching in the sciences, the official said. But it has not been given the funding to do so, the official said.

That unmet need was quantified in a 2017 study requested by the Ontario Ministry of Education that estimated the province’s employers will face a shortage of nearly 175,000 French-speaking college graduates by 2030 – with science and mathematics being the biggest area of demand.

Ontario employers currently find themselves recruiting outside the province or the country to find enough French-speaking workers, according to the study, which estimated that the proposed new university would attract more than 3,000 students annually and should be built to accommodate at least 10,000.

Ontario’s then-Liberal government approved plans for the French-only university in 2017, promising C$40 million toward the cost. But the Ford government cancelled that expenditure after taking office last year, calling it beyond the reach of the provincial budget.

Then, this month, the Ford government agreed with the federal government that each would pay about C$63 million toward the project. The Ontario government said that it will begin its contribution in 2023, the year it expects to have achieved a balanced budget, and repay any federal investment if the province backs out.

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