A new university is set to open in Ontario for its first cohort of students this September, with one key difference separating it from Ontario’s other 21 universities: The Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) will be entirely french-spoken, the first French-language university governed by and for Ontario Francophones.
The university will be the product of a long effort from francophones and Franco-Ontarians to have a French-language university in Ontario. The UOF’s original proposal by the Ontario Liberals in 2017 was cancelled by the Conservatives, following a trail of 3 other approved and discarded french-language campuses that would have been additions to already-existing Ontario universities.
The go-ahead for the UOF was finally confirmed in Sept. 2019, when the Ontario Conservative government changed their decision and agreed to pay half the funding for the university, signing the Memorandum of Understanding formally committing to work together with the federal government to establish the UOF.
“With this funding agreement with the Government of Canada in place, the implementation of Ontario’s first French-language university governed by and for Francophones is proceeding,” said Tanya Blazina, Media Contact for the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
The UOF will be supported by an investment of $126 million over eight years. This funding will be split with the Government of Canada supporting half of the cost, totalling $63 million for the first four years, and the Government of Ontario committed to matching this cost for the next four years.
“By signing the bilateral funding agreement regarding the UOF, the federal and provincial governments have affirmed their commitment to addressing the needs of the more than 620,000 Francophones in Ontario with regard to postsecondary education,” Blazina said.
After this eight-year period, the UOF will be funded just like all other Ontario universities.
Some believe the UOF is long overdue. While Quebec’s 800,000 anglophones have three universities, Manitoba’s 40,000 francophones have one university, Nova Scotia’s 30,000 francophones have one university, Ontario’s over 600,000 French-speakers will have had no university until the UOF is built.
“Please know that the Ontario government has always been committed to Université de l’Ontario français,” Blazina said. “Ontario has established a globally recognized brand of being a leader in post-secondary education and welcomes UOF as the newest member of Ontario’s Colleges and Universities family.”
Before the UOF, students who wanted to study in French in Ontario at the university level had to go to only a few universities where programming can be limited, and where they study alongside much more numerous English-speaking students who often have a much broader choice of programs.
The UOF will offer degree programs in urban studies, human plurality, digital culture, global economy and pedagogy in higher education, and it will partner with other universities and colleges to offer other programming, such as a degree in management.
The UOF will encourage and allow french-speaking Ontarians to continue their education in a familiar setting without sacrificing quality of education.
Some Ontarians have expressed concern over the chosen location for the UOF. The university will be located in Daniels, Toronto, a mixed use community where OCAD and George Brown College also reside. The high living costs of the area, as well as a skipped opportunity for an economic boost to a smaller community, make the location a questionable choice.
Dyane Adam, Chair of the Board of Governors for UOF, stated in a press conference the reason for this is that 30 per cent of francophones lived in the GTA, with only 3 per cent of post-secondary courses offered in french. In addition, the number of French schools and French-immersion programs in the region are “booming.”
Blazina highlighted the primary goal of providing widespread access to french education: “[Our priority] is providing students with the education and training necessary to meet labour market needs of today and in the future.”
The UOF will welcome its first cohort in the fall, with a plan to grow the school from 1000 to 2000 students in the first decade.