One month after the memorandum of understanding on funding was signed between the governments of Canada and Ontario, it appears the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) has finally been guaranteed the funds it needs to get started. It is now “all systems go” for the first students to attend the new postsecondary institution in 2021, said Dyane Adam, chair of the UOF board of governors.
The announcement of the funding agreement on September 7 was seen as the fulfilment of a dream by Franco-Ontarians that had lain dormant for decades. “This is historic,” said Ms. Adam. The support from Ontario’s French-speaking community “and the whole country, and even from the rest of the world” kept the project alive despite several near-death experiences in the past year, she said.
A total of $126 million will be allocated to funding the university over eight years. The amount has been revised upward from an initial estimate of $84 million, which did not include the provincial subsidies the UOF will be entitled to as a postsecondary training institution.
The funding will come from the federal and provincial governments in equal shares. Ottawa will be responsible for the first four years and Ontario for next four, up until 2028. The final agreement is “win-win” according to Carol Jolin, president of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario. He believes the timetable will allow Doug Ford’s government to make the budget cuts it announced in November 2018.
Is there still a risk for the OUF’s future? “I don’t think so,” said Mr Jolin. “The MOU is very stable, because it has been signed by both levels of government. The federal government has already earmarked the budget and, in any case, everyone has seen how the Francophone community can rally around a cause.”
Toronto’s first students in 2021
Although it seems to be settled that the UOF will open in Toronto, that geographic choice has caused some concern, in particular because living costs are so high in that city, on top of the tuition fees the students will have to pay.
To that end, the elected officials of Cornwall, Ontario, passed a resolution at the end of September confirming their desire to host the UOF based on the strength of the Francophone demographic in Eastern Ontario (more than a quarter million people). To that argument, Ms. Adam replies that while roughly 30 percent of Ontario’s francophones live in the Greater Toronto Area, the number of courses offered there in French is no more than three percent.
If everything goes according to plan, the first courses will start in the fall of 2021. After the startup period (within eight years), when the university has reached financial maturity, it will be able to welcome some 2,000 students. The first four programs will be on the globalized economy, urban environments, digital cultures and human plurality.