Federal funding 'a marker of confidence' for ambitious University of Sudbury, president says

·4 min read

It’s been over a year since the University of Sudbury hosted any students.

Last March, as rumours about Laurentian financial well-being swirled, the longstanding bilingual institution announced its intentions to go back to its roots as a French-language university, created by and for Northern Ontario’s Francophone community.

According to university president Serge Miville, it was a decision that gained more urgency when Laurentian terminated its federation agreements with its institutions: Thornloe University, Huntington University, and the University of Sudbury.

“The decision (was) taken … to create the institution that the Francophone community has dreamed about for over a century,” he said. “We’ve been contributing to the economic, social, and cultural developments of (Sudbury). The path forward for U of S and for the community has been very clear.”

Established in 1913, the University of Sudbury is one of the region’s first universities. At its founding, it was a fully francophone institution that allowed French-speakers, especially those in trades like mining, logging, and forestry, an opportunity to earn their degrees while staying near home.

It became bilingual in 1959, and by 1960, it was federated into Laurentian University.

But to join the federation, it was forced to relinquish its degree-granting powers to Laurentian. So when the federation dissolved in 2021, the University of Sudbury, unable to grant its own degrees, was forced to suspend all its programs.

It’s been without students ever since.

Terminating agreements with its federated universities is one of the steps Laurentian has taken as it restructures. In February 2021, Laurentian announced it was insolvent and couldn't pay its bills.

Laurentian used to share funding with its federated universities, including the U of S, but it now keeps that money.

Miville said he's concerned about the "exodus of students" as Laurentian cuts staff and programs, including many that were offered in French.

“They’re leaving the region; they’re going into English-language programs elsewhere. There’s a danger of assimilation and losing them. A lot of times, when people leave the region, they don’t come back.”

With those concerns in mind, Miville said that despite the destruction and heartache, the university is embracing the circumstances to deliver a long-awaited solution: an autonomous French-language university in Northern Ontario governed “by and for” the Francophone community.

“The by-and-for model is autonomous governance,” he said. “It’s basically empowering communities, because we believe communities are best placed to make the decisions for their post-secondary future.”

It’s a model that the federal government seems to have taken an interest in.

On April 29, Official Languages Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced the Canadian government would provided $1.9 million in funding to the University of Sudbury to support its first steps towards achieving this goal.

The process for securing the funding took several months, Miville said, because the university had no prior relationship with the government. Before, all their dealings went through Laurentian.

“I think it was creating confidence, a relationship, between the institutions and the ministry, to say, Ok, we can actually go forward with you guys, we can work with you guys, you guys have a vision that is in line with what we want to achieve in the sector,” he said. “And that’s, I believe, the reason why we secured that funding. To me, it’s a marker of confidence.”

The two-year investment will go towards a lengthy three-part process that the university hopes will pave the way to accreditation and a fully-functioning, independent Francophone institution.

These steps will include an organizational review through the Ontario Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board to assess the quality of programs and the institution’s capacity to deliver university degrees up to provincial standards.

“It will help build our capacity,” said Miville. “It will lend more credibility to the institution. It’s a good thing because then you have confidence that, okay, these guys know what they’re doing.”

After that, the university will undertake a market study to determine the potential demand for a French-language university in the region and the country, and to better understand what needs they might be in a position to fill.

Finally, they’ll need to put together a business plan, a roadmap of their short and long-term goals, associated costs, and potential financial and product delivery models.

The University of Sudbury will need provincial funding and approval before it can open as a French-language university.

While the organizational assessment will likely last five months, Miville can’t predict when the rest of the process will be complete, or when they’ll be able to welcome students back on campus.

“But we’re pretty confident that you don’t throw us into this organization review process, you don’t ask us to do all this work for nothing,” he said. “The way I see it, what the U of S is doing right now, and the path that it’s taking, is a path towards healing. I think it helps heal our community.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.


Twitter: @mia_rjensen

Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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