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Accelerate the downward spiral

FRANCOPRESSE – The announcement in mid-August of the suspension of admissions to ten French-language programs at Laurentian University in Sudbury and a dozen at Saint-Paul University in Ottawa prompted a shock wave in Ontario’s French-language postsecondary sector. To such an extent that some observers in the field fear the hecatomb.

First of two articles on cuts to post-secondary education in French

Marc Poirier – Francopresse

In all, theLaurentian University suspends registrations in 17 programs for the current year and theSaint Paul University in 13 programs. In both cases, these bilingual establishments cite a significant drop in enrollment to justify their decision.

Credit: Jason Paris – Wikimedia Commons

“For the past three or five years, we have had programs that have experienced declining enrollment. For the 17 programs this fall, we expected to have 49 students in total, ”explains Laurentian University President Robert Haché. “So three or four students per program. It is not sustainable. ”

Five programs only in French are affected at the establishment located in Sudbury, in the north of the province:

• Environment and Sustainable Development

• Mathematics

• Leadership: Physical outdoor activities

• Business administration – human resources

• Theater

The geography, archeology, anthropology and music programs are suspended in both French and English.

At Saint Paul University, it is pointed out that certain suspended programs attracted only two or three new students per year. The programs affected are almost all of a religious or moral nature:

• Theology

• Canon law

• Catholic bioethics

• Ethics and contemporary social issues

• Support and spirituality in palliative care

Both at Laurentian University and Saint Paul University, students who have already started one of these programs will be able to complete it. But if the suspensions are maintained, these programs will disappear within a few years.


A gloomy future for education in French, some believe

These decisions are of great concern to some experts and observers in the post-secondary sector.

“I have the impression that it is the beginning of the slaughter which is announced”, advances Martin Meunier, professor and holder of the Québec, Canadian Francophonie and Cultural Change Research Chair at the University of Ottawa.

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Martin Meunier wants francophone and bilingual postsecondary institutions in Ontario to look at their future, including the language of instruction. Credit: J.-C. Demers

He wonders if the leaders of Laurentian University have really thought about the situation in a larger context or if they are only doing “small-scale attrition”. He compares the situation to the closure of many churches for several years. One by one, without us really realizing it. Cuts that are being made “without a comprehensive plan, without an overall reflection on what should be the role of regional universities, such as Laurentian, in the entire university environment of Ontario.”

For his part, the historian and consultant Serge Dupuis understands that programs must sometimes be eliminated if registrations are insufficient. A Laurentian graduate himself, however, he believes that past mistakes have contributed to the current situation. It refers to organizational decisions that have made it more difficult to pursue studies in French.

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According to historian and consultant Serge Dupuis, certain decisions by the administration of Laurentian University have restricted teaching in French and contributed to today’s difficulties. Credit: Courtesy

For example, some programs are only available in French in the first and second year. French-speaking students must therefore complete them in English. Rather than having to change the language of instruction halfway through, many of them decide to do all their studies in English.

A choice which is not without consequences according to Serge Dupuis. “In turn, this meant that there was a drop in enrollment in French courses and we made them less viable and we ended up canceling them. It was a vicious circle that would not be possible in a French-speaking university. ”

The long-term impact of bilingual institutions

Serge Dupuis strikes a chord here: the bilingualism of the establishments in question.

Martin Meunier wants francophone and bilingual postsecondary institutions in Ontario to look at their future, including the language of instruction. “I think everything should be on the table. It is questionable whether there are not counterproductive models in friable and fragile demographic situations. Likewise, we must ask ourselves what kind of support the Ontario government is giving to universities to counter the effects of COVID. For me, it’s just as important. ”

Laurentian tempers the situation

The rector of Laurentian University assures us, however, that the situation is far from being as worrying as some may think. “We made the decision at the end of July and we immediately communicated with all the students who would be affected (49 students),” says Robert Haché. “And I believe all of the students were accommodated or received an offer of accommodation.”

For example, the Geography Honors program is among those that have been suspended, but the Geography Major program remains in place. Robert Haché admits that for the math program, it will only be available in English for newcomers. This is a very unpopular program in French.

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Laurentian University President Robert Haché, believes that the decision will have little impact on students after all. Credit: Courtesy

In addition, Robert Haché emphasizes that the changes are not final since the University Senate – the only body with the power to create or abolish programs – will have to consider these suspensions during the year. Some programs could therefore be reinstated in September 2021.

And the University of French Ontario in all of this?

The other unknown in the longer-term equation for these institutions will be the impact of the opening next year of the University of French Ontario (UOF) in Toronto. It will be the first French-language university in the province. Will some students prefer to study in a universe completely in French rather than enroll in a bilingual university?

Serge Dupuis specifies that the activists for the creation of the UOF did not want the project to drain the bilingual establishments of their French-speaking students and harm the offer of courses in French. But the turn of events makes him fear that the offer in French at Laurentian University will continue to deteriorate.

“What I’m worried about is that there is a tradition of university teaching in Northern Ontario and Sudbury,” he says. It is tragic and sad that it was not accompanied by an alternative possibility. It shows that administrators do not know where they are going to create programs and they do not know how they are going to manage it. ”

A situation which saddens the researcher who fears that the spiral is accelerating. “Francophone students study less in French because they have fewer options and therefore empty French lessons. So we are reducing the supply. This spiral will not only continue, but it will accelerate. ”