par Sylvie Bérard

Cette semaine, Ellie Bothwell, une journaliste de Times Higher Education, a communiqué avec moi pour savoir ce que je pensais des difficultés de l’Université de l’Ontario français pour sa première année d’existence.

L’article, publié ce matin, se trouve ici.

La réponse que je lui ai envoyée était plus longue que ce qu’elle en a cité, bien sûr, alors j’ai pensé la partager en entier (et en anglais) ici:

I was disappointed to learn about the low enrolment at the Université de l’Ontario français for its first year of existence, but at the same time I was not completely surprised given the conditions under which the UOF was opening. I was also aware (as everybody should be) of the challenges of opening a new university: how often is it that a public university is started from scratch, i.e., not from a college or technical institute in Canada?

I fully support the idea of having a Francophone university in Ontario. The province manages to offer postsecondary education in French through its network of bilingual institutions, but at the 2013-2014 États généraux sur le postsecondaire en Ontario français, the need for a Francophone governance of postsecondary education was emphasized. After all, the Francophone province next door with an Anglophone population of 600 000 to 1.06M (depending on how it is calculated) had 3 English-language universities serving a total of 78 000 students while Ontario, with a French-speaking population of 528 000 to 1,49M (again, depending on how you count) has none. But beyond the symbol, there is a real need to provide French-speaking students with a selection of good postsecondary programs – which would also be consistent with the French-language secondary education in the province and the demand from the population and the job market.

The Université de l’Ontario français is not the perfect project that everybody was awaiting but it is a sensible compromise and a good step in the right direction. Beside the fact that the university launched its first registration process in the midst of a pandemic, the conditions were already harsh enough since the university had to manœuvre between the established bilingual universities that were already offering French-language programs. There is a certain number of programs that the UOF could  not offer, to prevent any overlap with other institutions. If, as planned, it could launch education programs, I suspect the picture would change dramatically. In any case, this first year of registration should not suffice to define the sustainability of the whole project.

I know that some concerns were expressed about the federal and provincial governments spending  money on this new institution at a time when existing universities were struggling financially during the pandemic, but I think this is considering the issue from the wrong angle. The need for French-language postsecondary education is, to use a popular expression right now, a pre-existing condition in Ontario. It dates back from long before 2020 and will still prevail after the pandemic. Also, if the creation of a Francophone university in the province really represents a threat for the other universities, then the problem is not the UOF but the whole university system in Ontario that forces the institution to compete against each other like businesses (because getting more students means getting more money) instead of focusing on what they do the best: providing a good postsecondary education. But this is a whole debate in itself, is it?