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Ryerson director wants to create a new French university in Toronto

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By Jacob Dubé

A Ryerson program director is part of a planning board to research the creation of a new all-French university near Toronto—the first of its kind in Southern Ontario.

Frédéric Dimanche, the director of Hospitality and Tourism at the Ted Rogers School of Management, is part of a group that meets once a month to work on the proposal. It is led by Dyane Adam, former Canadian Official Languages Commissioner, and the group will be releasing its report this summer.

“There are some French-speaking Ontarians who are looking for an opportunity to have a university education in French, and Toronto has an increasing number of French-speaking immigrants,” he said. “This university could be attracting also French-speaking international students.”

“There are several markets that could look at this as an opportunity to pursue higher education in Ontario,” Dimanche added.

Last month, a Franco-Ontarian family from Toronto—with the support of hundreds of others—announced they were planning to sue the provincial government for better access to French high schools in their area. They said the lack of bilingual schooling prevents their children from studying in their native language.

Ontario has a long and contentious history regarding French education, starting in 1912 when the government implemented a regulation banning French education in the province. It was struck down 15 years later.

Marie-France Lalonde, an Ontario minister responsible for Francophone Affairs, is involved in supervising the board. She said the group decided to look into creating this university in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) because the area has seen the most growth among French-speaking individuals in the province.

“There’s a lot of jobs and economic growth in that area,” she said. “New Canadians are considering Toronto as their place of choice because of the opportunity for jobs. People are realizing the importance of having two languages, and the economic advantage it would provide to our youth.”

“Hopefully [we can] create something that will really help our youth to have access to a French language environment,” she said.

According to a 2016 report, the GTA has over 220,000 French-speaking citizens, and only 1,387 with French language diplomas. Lalonde said the report suggested the creation of the research board to see the best way a French university could be implemented. The province  has a $12 billion commitment over the next 10 years to invest in new schooling.

Originally from the Loire Valley in France, Dimanche has been teaching in Ontario for a year and a half. He said he’s not familiar with the extensive history of the English-French relations in the province, so he is approaching the situation with a fresh set of eyes.

Since this is a unique project, Dimanche wants to take advantage of the diversity of the board, which consists of academics, politicians and others, and make the proposed university as original as possible.

“We are bringing creativity [to the project],” he said. “One thing the ministers told us is you have “carte blanche,” you don’t have to create something that is already existing and just put it in French. It’s really the opportunity to do something different that Toronto and Canada can be proud of.”

There is currently only one French university in the province—Université de Hearst, a 10-hour drive from Toronto—and several that have bilingual curriculums.

Ryerson President Mohamed Lachemi said that Ryerson has no current plans to add any French programs to its curriculum, but since he speaks and studied in the language, he would be open to partnerships in the future.

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