Collaboration, funding and recruitment were the three main themes at the Sommet des États généraux sur le postsecondaire en contexte francophone minoritaire (Summit of the National Dialogue on postsecondary education in francophone minority context in Canada), which was held on March 24-25. The goal of the event was to identify concrete actions to achieve long-term improvements in those three areas, to help ensure the sustainability of French-language postsecondary education outside Quebec.
The États généraux, a series of 11 consultations, were launched in April 2021 as a joint initiative of the l’Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA). The summit was the final step in that consultation process. Its objective, as stated in a document shared with the 200 registered participants, was to “take stock of the status of postsecondary education in francophone minority communities to identify coherent, systemic and sustainable solutions for its long-term protection.”
According to the suggestions put forward during the summit, collaboration is central to the future of postsecondary education in francophone minority communities, and can take many forms. Whether it is the pan-Canadian francophone university concept envisioned by Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario director Peter Hominuk, hybrid learning or the creation of interuniversity programs that emerged from the consultations, one thing is certain: collaboration will be essential to offering an exhaustive and complementary postsecondary education experience.
“It will be important to determine the respective strengths of our institutions and develop a solid collaborative partnership to innovate
and recruit on a national scale. Instead of competing with one another, we need to focus on a more collaborative approach,” said Marguerite Tölgyesi, chair of the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française as well as a notetaker for the États généraux.
While they are aware this is easier said than done, the summit participants refuse to give up. “We can enter agreements with countries overseas, but we can’t come to an understanding between Canadian provinces!” Mr. Hominuk quipped during a discussion of the challenges of getting credits recognized from one university to the next. He also thinks it would be beneficial to explore whether a national certification system could be implemented.
The need for dependable funding was a common refrain in the discussions – one that participants know all too well. Given the financial challenges many institutions have faced in recent years, it is unsurprising that this piece of the puzzle was top of mind.
“Over the past several years, our colleges and universities have faced significant challenges. Our government recognizes that postsecondary institutions in minority communities need support and we are committed to provide it,” said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the federal minister of official languages, at the summit. “In fact, the prime minister has specifically mandated me to increase the funding of postsecondary institutions in official language minority communities. It is a priority for me.”
For many, her words were a subtle reminder that the federal government’s 2021-2022 budget included an investment of $121.3 million over three years. During the 2021 election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to make this investment permanent.
As of March 30, the official announcement on the allocation of those funds was still pending. “Canadian Heritage has approved 23 applications from nine provinces and territories for projects to provide quality postsecondary education in Canada’s minority language,” wrote Canadian Heritage spokesperson David Larose in an email.
While the community welcomed the additional funding from the federal government, it is only part of the solution, according to Raymond Théberge, the federal commissioner of official languages and former president of Université de Moncton. “Typically, this type of funding has some drawbacks. It is neither a long-term vision nor a predictable or permanent solution to chronic underfunding at the operational and structural levels. This funding is important, but it needs to be within a much broader framework of stable and predictable funding.”
Dr. Théberge believes that a new funding model is required to put an end to the competition between institutions. “The funding system creates competition,” he said. This sentiment was echoed by FCFA director Alain Dupuis: “The sector is experiencing a crisis. We have an obligation to collaborate and succeed, and we must also do things differently. We can no longer be competing with one another.”
The summit also discussed recruiting international students, a subject that is now deeply intertwined with the funding of Canadian institutions. The particularly high refusal rate for study permits for international francophone students, which has received a lot of press in recent months, was once again condemned. “We saw that there is a problem processing international applications, particularly for those from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Serge Quinty, FCFA communications director and an États généraux notetaker. “There is a contradiction between requiring that candidates show they will return to their country at the end of their studies, and Canada’s francophone immigration goals. This contradiction needs to be resolved.”
The huge volume of information collected throughout the consultations shows there are many factors to consider. A report that will include recommendations as well as a strategic plan is slated to be released this fall.