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New investment was announced on International Francophonie Day, March 21. Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum
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UOSU Francophone affairs commissioner responds to announcement, highlights gaps

The University of Ottawa announced on March 21, that it will be investing $5 million into the Francophonie on campus over the next five years. 

The announcement was made on International Francophonie Day. 

The University’s media release explains that this will allow the Office of the vice-president, international and Francophonie to continue to work on specific initiatives, such as the hiring of new French-speaking professors and the development of new programs in French. The investment has been made in hopes of “providing an exceptional learning environment for Francophone students.” 

The statement reads: “The University of Ottawa renews its commitment to providing a  sustainable, strong, and adaptive response to its vision of the Francophonie on campus so that it can fully embrace its role in higher education within the Francophonie in Canada and abroad.”

The Fulcrum spoke to University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) Francophone commissioner Lia Bosquet about the announcement.

“I think it’s really great. I know, they’ve been putting effort into Francophonie a lot lately. Last year, they opened up the head office for Francophonie, whom I’ve been working with this year. There’s definitely been effort on their part. So, I think the investment was to be expected. But I’m not going to celebrate quite yet until I see it starting to reflect in the community,” she said.

When discussing where this money could possibly be distributed, Bosquet pointed to many issues faced by Francophones on campus. Bosquet pointed first to resources, and the difficulties that French students have in this regard. She also highlighted the lack of not only French professors, but of electives available for French students. 

“I think the first important thing would be to open more classes for Franco students. So having more Franco-speaking professors. When people want to take their classes in French, they’re very limited in choices. They only have one professor to pick from, or only one set hour that’s not very convenient for them. There’s also a lot of classes that exist in English that don’t have the French equivalency,” Bosquet said.

Additionally, from a more internal point of view, Bosquet explained the unequal circumstances of French research.

“Internally for the Franco professors and grad students to be able to conduct research in French, there’s a huge bias. When it comes up most of the research will be conducted in English because it’s more valued than research conducted in French, which leads to us not having as many academic resources in French,” she said. 

Besides academic issues, Bosquet also pointed out the culture of languages on campus, and how this might change with specific use of the money.

“Even though there are classes in French, it doesn’t really translate to the culture. A lot of Francophone students are a little bit disappointed once they get to campus because they realize that the university is advertised as bilingual, but everywhere everyone’s speaking English. I’m thinking especially for the international students who don’t speak English at all,” Bosquet said.

She pointed to a few more initiatives which could benefit from additional funding, such as cross-Franco-university partnerships, more scholarships for French students, and the building of a new French space for students. Additionally, Bosquet explains that even past the pandemic, she would like to see the continuation of online French courses, so that students from other French minority provinces can benefit from French education, without making the move to Ottawa.

Sanni Yaya, the University’s vice-president, international and Francophonie, spoke in the statement about the investment. 

“More than ever, we need concrete action, rather than hollow promises, to continue to make French a language of science and culture. The vitality of the Francophonie in daily life requires us to commit significant funding, without which this Francophonie is condemned to remain wishful thinking at best and empty promises at worst,” he wrote.

“Today, the University of Ottawa is taking bold action in some priority areas to meet the needs of its Francophone community, which rather than seeking to reinvent the world, is simply trying to find its place within it. The success of thousands of University students, and the vitality of Francophone communities across Canada, depend on such actions.”