The Liberal government of Ontario is moving forward with the creation of a French-language university in the province.

The new institution, whose plans were announced by Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews on August 28, will be the first of its kind in Ontario. The province has 611,500 Francophones, and it is home to the largest French-speaking population in Canada outside Québec.

“Francophone culture and the French language have always been essential to Ontario’s identity and prosperity,” said Minister of Francophone Affairs Marie-France LaLonde, adding that the new institution is a “critical milestone for Franco-Ontarians and future generations.”

Collaboration between the Francophone community and the French-Language University Planning Board resulted in a June 30, 2017 report recommending the creation of the new institution in Central and Southwestern Ontario, specifically in downtown Toronto. Former Official Languages Commissioner Dyane Adam led the planning board.

“After careful review, Ontario will be accepting key recommendations of the report and intends to introduce legislation for the creation of the proposed university in the coming months. Creating more postsecondary education options for students is part of our plan to create jobs, grow our economy, and help people in their everyday lives,” a media release from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development stated.

In an interview with The Varsity, Dr. Anne-Marie Visoi, Associate Professor of French Cultural Studies in the Department of French at UTSG, discussed how this endeavour will further develop provincial academic excellence while also attaining the report’s stated goal of job creation.

“I believe that if we give students an opportunity to attend a Franco-Ontarian University we would be able to promote Franco-Ontarian culture and values in an unprecedented way,” Visoi said.

Visoi thinks that the recommended location in downtown Toronto is “ideal” and will be “wonderful for internships, summer jobs, mentorships, but also for the creation of jobs.”

Visoi noted the need for bilingual workers in the public sector. “I think with the public servants who are retiring, we need bilingual graduates to fill the positions,” Visoi said. “[For] employers in all sorts of sectors who are looking for bilingual employees, there are careers in education, law, social services, and health.”

The planning board concluded in their report that “affiliation with a bilingual or English-language university did not satisfy the principle of governance ‘by and for’ francophones, since in this model, the ultimate academic power rests with senates or their equivalents, which are not under the exclusive control of francophones.”

The board recommended a bill be passed “that establishes an autonomous French-language University in enabling legislation that would confer… structures of governance and management that are autonomous and that operate in French… designed to province the greatest amount of administrative flexibility and openness to receiving input from communities, the job market, and partners.”

Matthews stated that the new institution will be “a tremendous step forward in the creation of the first standalone French-language university in Ontario, governed by and for Francophones.”

Student interest and market demand influenced the planning board to conclude that there is a “sufficiently large pool of students to support an institution of modest size driven by academic excellence,” adding that this results from the fact that “employers in the region are already facing significant challenges in recruiting employees who are competent in French and the needs are expected to continue to grow.”

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the French Language Services Act, passed in 1986, which protects the rights of Francophones in Ontario.

There are over 20 universities in Ontario, yet none operate entirely in French with autonomous governance by Francophones. The two French language colleges operating in the province are La Cité collegiale and Collège Boréal.

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