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New designation ensures French education

Allan Rock announces the university’s designation Photo:Eric Davidson

The announcement came on Sept. 25, Franco-Ontarian Day, and will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The university has historically offered many of these programs in French anyway, but this new designation means that French-language education and services will be a right, not just something put in promotional posters.

“I think it’s important as a guarantee to the Francophone population that the services will always be available to them,” said U of O President Allan Rock.

Rock also made it clear that there will be no change for Anglophone students. “Their world remains exactly the same,” he said.

“Designation under the legislation has been seen as a powerful protection for the continuation of French-languages services,” said Sébastien Grammond, a law professor at the U of O who coordinated the designation process.

The legislation means that students have the right to be able to finish their undergraduate degrees by selecting only courses in French. It does not guarantee that every course will be available in French.

Grammond recalled the battle to keep the Montfort hospital, a teaching hospital associated with the U of O that offered French-language university training. It was closed in 1997 by the province, but was reopened after backlash from the Franco-Ontarian community. Grammond said that the purpose of the classification is to avoid similar problems in the future.

“We have 600,000 Francophones in Ontario, and meeting their needs is important,” said Rock. “We’re a major part of responding to those needs, and we’re very proud of that.”

Thirty-one per cent of the student population, or around 13,000 students, at the U of O is Francophone. The U of O is also the largest French-English bilingual university in the world.

U of O’s classification came after four years of discussion. The university also consulted with various Ontario government agencies, according to a U of O press release.

“We finally found a way to have the designation but at the same time maintain the flexibility to modify our programs,” said Rock.

The U of O is the fifth post-secondary institution in Ontario to receive this designation, after Boréal College, La Cité College, Laurentian University, and Hearst University.

The new legislation applies only to undergraduate students, but it could soon apply to other programs as well.

“The University is committed to reviewing the scope of this designation,” said Grammond in a press release. “In three years’ time, we may consider designating graduate programs, and other programs and services not covered by the designation.”