In 2012 the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner released an investigation report titled The State of French-Language Postsecondary Education in Central-Southwestern Ontario: No access, no future. The report stated that the Commissioner's office had received numerous complaints regarding access to French-language post-secondary education. This is a significant issue, seeing as 493,300 Ontarians self-declared as francophone in the 2011 census.
Knowing that OUSA doesn’t have any standing policy on Francophone access, I decided to look into these issues further and reached out to our partners at the Franco-Ontarian Students’ Association (REFO). They sent me the .pdf of a 2008 report, stating that it was the most recent study published by the Ministry of Advanced Education & Skills Development. The report itself was eye-opening; however, it was disheartening to see that some of the issues that were highlighted are still issues today.
For starters, currently in Ontario about 2 in 10 programs allow students to study in French, with most of these programs being in social sciences, arts, and education. On the other hand, programs such as engineering, math, or architecture are less likely to offer French language courses. This is a significant issue for access, as currently, Francophone students are not able to easily study in their program of choice.
Another critical issue with access is the location of these French language programs. Presently, most French-language or bilingual campuses are located in Northern Ontario, or the Ottawa region, despite the fact that there are rising Francophone populations across the province, including the Greater Toronto Area. This forces students to sometimes move significant distances just to study in their preferred language. If they choose not to relocate, the issue of assimilation becomes a problem because if they do not study or regularly communicate in French in their daily lives, they are more likely to stop using French as their primary language.
More needs to be done to address this. The government of Ontario has taken great steps in the 2017 budget with providing funding for the creation of a new French-language university, but our broader sector needs to do more to recognize these access issues and remember that Francophones make up a significant portion of our population. I was on OUSA's Steering Committee when we passed the most recent version of our access policy paper, and it did not even occur to me that Francophone access was not a significant component of the paper. When we as a sector look at access as an issue, we need to ensure that we look at the issues facing Francophones the same way we look at issues affecting groups such as first generation, indigenous, or low-income students.