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Tough times for French postsecondary education in Ontario

Laurentian University’s financial difficulties and the challenges facing the Université de l’Ontario français create uncertainty.

BY JULIEN CAYOUETTE | FEB 10 2021

Two unexpected announcements shook French-language university education in Ontario on February 1: Université de l’Ontario français has lost its first president and Laurentian University is seeking creditor protection.

The announcement of the financial challenges faced by the northern Ontario university is still arousing concerns. Professors, media and analysts are searching for the cause while the institution seems to be focused on the next steps.

The news came as a shock to those in Greater Sudbury, the Franco-Ontarian community, as well as to those at the institution. Both staff (who have asked that they remain anonymous) and members of the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) expressed surprise at the announcement.

Laurentian University president Robert Haché has not granted any media interviews, but a website was launched by the institution explaining the situation and providing access to the over 1,750 pages submitted to the courts asking for protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

The R.D. Parker building at Laurentian University. Photo by Julien Cayouette.

In his messages to the university community, the president was reassuring and optimistic, especially toward the students. He promised that the judicial oversight will lead to restructuring in three months. Until then, the current semester and daily operations will continue as normal.

The proposed restructuring includes a review of underperforming programs. LUFA expects that the 17 programs that had their registration suspended in fall 2020 will definitely be targeted. Nine of those are French programs. The union is worried that French courses will be disproportionately affected by the restructuring.

The long-term effects are even more difficult to predict, but LUFA Treasurer Jean-Charles Cachon, a professor in the department of marketing and management, does not believe that Laurentian’s reputation will be affected. He especially hopes that both the federal and provincial governments will step in. “The government must get involved in this story and support the institution. That would be the simplest solution that would cause the least harm to the community.”

l’Université de l’Ontario français. Photo courtesy of UOF.

UOF: The “crew” is still ready

News about the resignation of the president of Université de l’Ontario français (UOF), André Roy, came only a week and a half after the media reported that the new university had received only 19 applications through the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre and about 20 adults and foreign students for its first semester. Rumours were not long in following, but Dyane Adam, chair of the board of governors has insisted that the president’s departure was for personal reasons that have nothing to do with registrations.

However, after those two announcements, applications continued to arrive and there were nearly 60 by February 5.

The initial plan had floated the figure of 180 registrations for the first semester, “but that figure was not revised after the planning exercise,” said Dr. Adam. Three extra years separated the plan and the university opening, due to the Ontario government cancelling the project in 2018.

UOF also opens its doors in a less-than-ideal situation: the approval process for its programs was not completed until October 2020, and before then, it was not allowed to promote them. Many students had already made their plans by the time the university was ready to receive applications, Dr. Adam explained.

With all these variables in play – not to mention the global pandemic – she is satisfied with the results and dismisses the criticism, pointing out that not everything depends on the first semester. “There’s a reason UOF received start-up financing for eight years.” She added that she finds it encouraging that the applications are divided fairly evenly among the four programs the university currently has to offer.

The president’s departure does not change anything. “The captain may be gone, but the crew is still here” and the ship will be launched, Dr. Adam insisted.

The coming months will be dedicated to converting applications into admissions, adjusting the recruitment process for the next time around and finding a new president.

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