It is concerning that Laurentian University, that offers programs in French in Sudbury, cannot maintain its services in Barrie, one of the fastest growing cities in Ontario. The contrast between the request for a new university and the closure of a campus says a lot about the current state of post-secondary education in Ontario. The Franco-Ontarian community would benefit from evaluating the current economic and political context when formulating its demands in order to avoid a setback for students in the province, both francophone and anglophone.
1. The Liberals are no friends to students
In the last 10 years, Liberal governments have done nothing to increase access to post-secondary education – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The funding formula in effect since 2009-2010 has resulted in sky-rocketing tuition fees. The Barrie campus of Laurentian University was opened with the support of the Liberal government, without having the means to guarantee its success. If the Kathleen Wynne government takes action on the question of a new university, it will be more of a political decision to court the vote of the francophone community than it will be to advance the interest of students.
2. The University is in crisis
Apart from the question of tuition fees – which have put education out of reach for many students regardless of language spoken – the University as an institution is going through tough times. There is a tension between historic understandings of the University as a place for high learning and knowledge development, and modern efforts to create facilities where individuals are trained for very specific jobs. The student movement identifies this shift as the commercialization and corporatization of university campuses – a tendency that puts the pursuit of profits ahead of the pursuit of knowledge. In that context, it would not be the place of cultural gathering and sharing that the community is requesting.
3. A two-tier system
As a result, an institution dedicated to the francophone community would exist on the margins, and in conflict with the world-renowned institutions that already exist in Ontario. As a small institution that is unlikely to establish a strong national or international reputation in any particular discipline, it would be under-valued and under-funded. And while the size and global reputation of an institution shouldn’t impact the education of its students, the current funding structures being maintained and promoted by the Ontario government leave little doubt that this would be the case. Given this reality, the question then is, does the community want a second-rate education for its students?
During the media coverage of this week’s day of action for a Franco-Ontarian university, Radio-Canada promoted a survey to determine the preferred form of university for the Franco-Ontarian community. There were two critical questions blatantly absent from this survey (which have also been largely ignored the larger discussion): What form would this institution need to take in order to ensure it received adequate government funding? How can this institution provide universal access to education for students?
In sum, all students in Ontario have an urgent need for increased access to education. In the current context, it seems clear that the liberal government will be unable to deliver any much needed change.