1. Why is the UOF necessary?
French-speakers in Ontario have sought an autonomous French-language university of their own for over 40 years in order to complete the education continuum from elementary school to university. As such, the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) is a capstone project for French-speakers in the province. Ontario has over 600,000 French-speakers, representing a mix of Ontarians going back many generations, people from other parts of Canada and immigrants. Ontario guarantees these French-speakers education in their language, and operates school boards across the province to support this constitutionally-protected linguistic minority. Much in the same way,
- Quebec’s 800 000 anglophones have three universities;
- Manitoba’s 40 000 francophones have one university;
- New Brunswick’s 235 000 francophones have one university (with 3 campuses); and,
- Nova Scotia’s 30 000 francophones have one university.
Ontario’s over 600,000 French-speakers need their first and only independent French university.
Before the Planning Board for the French-language university was created in 2016, there was five years of study by two separate advisory committees to the government. Both concluded a university was necessary to meet needs in the GTA and southwestern Ontario. An independent study commissioned by the government in 2017 also demonstrated strong student demand and market need for the GTA and southwestern Ontario. Other government studies have demonstrated the inequality from which Ontario’s French communities suffer.
This need was recognized by all political parties and received support in the provincial legislature. When the university was put forward as an initiative by the previous provincial government, it received all-party support. In the last provincial election campaign, the university also received all-party support. Our current Premier, Doug Ford, publicly committed to supporting the university before the election, and did the same once elected Premier. His Ministers, including Merrilee Fullerton (Training, Colleges and Universities) and Caroline Mulroney (Attorney General, and Minister for Francophone Affairs), also publicly committed to supporting the university.
The UOF has a provincial scope to its special mission, enshrined in the Act which created it and passed by the legislature of Ontario, to offer a range of university degrees and education in French to promote the linguistic, cultural, economic and social well-being of its students of Ontario’s French-speaking community. It seeks to fulfill this mission by providing all Franco-Ontarians, other Ontarians wishing to study in French, and other Canadians in addition to international students the opportunity to learn, live and study in French at its first campus in downtown Toronto. The UOF will progressively extend its scope province-wide.
2 . Are there enough students and demand to justify continuing with the project?
Yes. At present the GTA and southwestern Ontario are home to more than a quarter of a million French-speakers, drawn from Canada and around the world by the dynamism of this area. New French-language schools open every year. The French school boards in this area operate 110 elementary schools and 35 high schools with more than 40,000 students. Many thousands more study in French immersion schools, with significant yearly growth of students in immersion programs. Already almost as many French-speakers live here than in New Brunswick, home to the Université de Moncton. By the end of the next decade, it is projected that more than half of the French-speakers in Ontario will live in central and southwestern Ontario. When factoring in French-speakers from other parts of Ontario, the rest of Canada, and international students, it is hard to make the case that enrolment would not support a relatively small French language university in Toronto.
3. Is it sustainable, and how much does it cost?
Yes. The business plan of the university was developed in close cooperation with the same senior ministry officials who manage funding for the whole university system. The start-up cost for the university is budgeted at $84 million spread over eight years, with half expected to be federal funds. The average annual cost to Ontario is about $5 million for 8 years. This start-up cost amounts to 0.07% of the roughly $6.8 billion spent only in 2017-18 on postsecondary education. Simply put, halting the university’s operations will not lead to any significant savings, and could lead to a net loss through foregone economic activity.
4. Will it offer courses in professional areas? Does UOF plan to co-operate with other institutions?
Yes. The university has delivered on its first priority, designing innovative programs, focused on work-related and experiential learning, that prepare students to enter professional programs: an initial set of baccalaureate level programs were submitted early October for provincial approval, based on work by leading professors from across Canada and the world. The whole model of the university is based upon leveraging existing resources in provincial bilingual universities to provide quality programs at the lowest cost. Discussions with some of these universities are already underway to structure a network of collaboration for professional areas. Here are some of the partners and areas actively being pursued, namely:
- Alternative Teacher Training (requested by area French school boards and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities): a working group exists with partners including Université de Hearst (federated with Laurentian U.).
- Common Law and Social Work with the University of Ottawa.
- Master of Counselling with Université St. Paul (federated with U. Ottawa).
- Master of Teaching with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto).
- Professionally-oriented French upgrading and certification programs for students of English language universities in areas such as health sciences, pharmacy, dentistry and nutrition to prepare them to work in bilingual environments.
The university has also explored affiliations as a unique opportunity to form a pan-provincial network of universities (including discussions with Université de Hearst, l’Université Saint–Paul and l’Université de Sudbury) serving and governed by Francophones. Our exploration of the possibilities of affiliations and partnerships has given rise to expressions of the intention by several institutions to join such a network.
5. Does the university already exist?
Yes. The law creating the university was passed in December, 2017 and remains in force. Its first employees started work in November 2017 and have been building towards serving the first cohort of students expected in 2020. One hundred professors and specialists from across Canada and the World have helped in designing the university’s pedagogical approach, programs, policies and regulations. The university’s first board of governors was named by the government of Ontario in April 2018 and they have been regularly committing their time to ensuring the success of the university through committee meetings, board meetings and in the community. As noted, UOF is actively forming partnerships with other postsecondary institutions, has an agreement in principle for a site to accommodate its first students, has recruited its first student advisory council and has also submitted its programs for approval to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
6. If the government has already closed 3 new previously-approved campuses in Milton, Brampton and Markham, why should UOF stay open?
UOF regrets that proposed campuses of already-existing universities in Ontario did not receive continued government support. Some of these impacted universities have already indicated their intention to move forward with the projects, and UOF supports any expanded increase to education anywhere in the province. It should always be easier, cheaper and more accessible to receive an education in Ontario as opposed to harder, more expense and farther away from home.
While sharing many similarities with these 3 campuses, UOF is also different in many respects. Firstly, the three campuses were proposed projects from already-existing universities whose core operations and home campuses are not impacted by the decision. Similarly, the government decision to cancel the three campuses did not call into question the existence of the universities themselves. The proposed halt in support to the UOF would put a stop in the existing momentum and reduce the confidence of committed partners in Ontario, across the country and abroad. This loss of momentum would seriously jeopardize the future establishment of the university.
Secondly, UOF exists to serve any and all students from Ontario, Canada and the world seeking to study in French, in Toronto. This is a special mission which has a province-wide scope and significance, also although based in the city of Toronto, the university would provide access to francophones everywhere in Ontario who currently do not have a French-language institution to attend either as a physical location or online-enabled learning. It is also important to note that the UOF has already been in discussions with other universities such as Université de Hearst, Université Saint-Paul and Université de Sudbury to explore opportunities for affiliation or other partnership models. Lastly, the UOF already has employees, a physical existing location and was scheduled to open the soonest, in 2020.
7. Why do we need this university if there are already French-language programs at other universities?
There are several other universities, including Ottawa and Laurentian, which offer a bilingual experience and programming in French. However, although there are two fully French colleges, and one smaller regional French language university in Hearst (federated to Laurentian), there is no fully independent French-language university in Ontario. Most of the roughly 300 French-language and bilingual programs available in Ontario are offered by the U. of Ottawa in the East and the Laurentian University system in the North. Glendon College offers some programs in French but mainly in a bilingual perspective.
This forces students who wish to study in French in Ontario at the university level to go to only a few universities where programming can be limited, and where they study alongside much more numerous English-speaking students who often have a much broader choice of programs. Both of the two main Ontario universities which also offer courses in French have a predominantly English-speaking student body. As a result, a fully autonomous French-language university is needed to support those who want to study in French in Ontario in a French-language environment. Ontario should not create a void that forces French-speaking students to attend institutions far away from home or out-of-province where there are significant additional costs to studying; or, to institutions where their official language is not the primary language of instruction.
The UOF seeks to fill this void and also to develop its own space by developing partnerships with English and French language institutions across Ontario and Canada which would create significant benefits for all students.
8. Will UOF contribute to training English students to be proficient in French language?
Finally, the third component of the university’s operations is based on its desire to support francophones and francophile students (immersion, extended French) enrolled in English partner universities of the GTA and the Centre-South-West, by offering them an opportunity to pursue language development in French through optional courses at UOF. This measure has the advantage of broadening students’ access to new streams of study and builds on the distinct mission of the autonomous French-language university. This program would lead to a certificate of linguistic competence and would allow students to maintain and achieve a level of academic mastery of oral and written French while continuing their English training in the programs and universities of their choice.
For employers and Ontario as a whole, multilingual skills are increasingly important to be a key player in the global economy. UOF would assist in the creation of a pool of candidates who have recognized language skills in both of Canada’s official languages. According to certain estimates, no less than 3,500 francophone students were enrolled in English universities in the Centre-Southwest in 2016-17. This is a low estimate, as this number does not include all bilingual students that come from French as a second language programs. It is important that an autonomous university option in the GTA and broader region exists which enables students and parents to maximize the return on the investment in French-language competency they have made over the years in Enriched, Immersion and French-language schools boards.
9. How is the UOF different from other universities?
UOF has an advantage in that it is not weighed down by history and has not yet developed institutional traditions. As such, it can developed as a forward-thinking institution which could serve as an example to other universities in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada or the world. It’s a unique chance.
The UOF is …
… a university conceived differently. Its design is focused on innovation in terms of its governance, its administrative structure, its partnership with other institutions and communities, its concern for the place of students, its pedagogical signature, choice and development of its curriculum, faculty recruitment plan, vision of research development, access to knowledge, space design and digital environment.
… centered first and foremost on the student. The UOF wants to prepare students to be active citizens and to be ready for the jobs and occupations of tomorrow. Its learning activities aim to develop 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, communication, collaboration, etc. Its learning activities will immerse students and faculty in the realities of contemporary issues, so that they identify and renew the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological tools that will best contribute to innovative solutions. Students will also learn through experience, directly into the world of work and community involvement.
… a collaborative space. The UOF initiates a collaboration between all its students, professors and professors in workshops called third places. The UOF will also join forces with some fifteen institutions and organizations in a Francophone knowledge and innovation hub that will be located in downtown Toronto. UOF is also partnering with institutions across Ontario to expand its offerings and expand the reach of its mission.
… a connected university. The UOF has opted for immersion in the digital world. The choice of state-of-the-art technologies enables rigorous business management with the individualized and participative management of learning. Digital technology will bring the world’s chosen realities into the classroom and open up wider access to its learning activities. It chooses to deliver all its training in co-modality (face-to-face and online).
… committed to free access to knowledge. UOF adheres to the principle of free access to knowledge. The university has already founded a French-language scientific journal, Enjeux et Société. Approches transdisciplinaires, to be published in open access on the Érudit platform. This review will be a model to follow for other scientific journals. In the wake of the guidelines adopted by the granting agencies, the UOF states its objective of promoting immediate open access, and plans to have a policy for this purpose soon. The university will therefore value, in its professors-researchers, the publication of their work in free and open access.