Promoting student and graduate mobility between Canada and France is the primary goal of the three-way agreement between the Conference of University Presidents (CPU), the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne (ACUFC) and Universities Canada.
More than just an exchange agreement between schools, the letter of intent signed at the French Embassy in Ottawa on May 16 is a solution to a shortage of French as a Foreign Language teachers that has plagued Canada for years.
“Canada faces major challenges when it comes to hiring qualified French teachers in minority settings,” says Jean-Pierre Gauthier, director general of the Official Languages Branch with the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Victims of their own success, French immersion and French as a Foreign Language programs have become so popular that school boards have had to restrict access to immersion courses due to a lack of qualified teachers.
“We have been working for two years to find those candidates, since the main barrier to meeting demand is human resources,” explains Nicolas Chapuis, France’s ambassador to Canada.
This historic agreement is designed to kill two birds with one stone. The idea is to address the shortage of French-language teachers in some provinces by increasing professional opportunities for graduates of France’s universities who are interested in working in Canada. However, they will need to complete supplemental training and meet provincial accreditation standards to secure employment on Canadian soil.
“The partnerships and agreements between French and Canadian universities that will emerge from this letter of intent are sure to be beneficial not only for our educational establishments, but also for the communities we serve,” adds Allister Surette, co-chair of ACUFC and president and vice-chancellor of Université Sainte-Anne in Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia.
The agreement also encourages Canadian students to study in France.
“Some 9,700 French students study in Canada each year, while only 1,300 Canadian students do the same in France,” notes Olivier Giron with the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research.
“As crucibles of knowledge, universities have an important role to play in broadening students’ horizons,” says Dominic Giroux, outgoing vice-chair of the Universities Canada board of directors and president of Laurentian University. “As such, it’s only natural to encourage initiatives that help various groups of individuals share their knowledge.”
First concrete discussions
Following the signing, representatives from 17 French universities, 17 Canadian universities and officials from various levels of government shared their perspectives on issues such as funding, visas, immigration, training, degrees and workforce integration in a series of workshops. This seminar was presented as a concrete next step to the agreement, and aimed at identifying issues to be addressed as well as best practices for implementing the letter of intent.