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University of Ottawa to partner on Sudbury francophone university

But provincial government says it has no plans to reverse its 2023 decision and fund project
From left are Marc Gauthier, former director of education with Conseil scolaire du Grand Nord, University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont, Université de Sudbury president Serge Miville and Peter Hominuk, executive director of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario. They gathered for a group photo at Université de Sudbury March 14, 2024 following an announcement.

After the province said “no” last summer to funding the Université de Sudbury’s proposal for a standalone francophone university in Greater Sudbury, U of S announced March 14 it’s partnering with the University of Ottawa as it attempts to get the project off the ground.

The two institutions say they have a “memorandum of understanding” to offer bachelor's degree level programs that are “not available in the region and to meet the needs of the labour market in Northeastern Ontario” beginning in September 2025.

The partnership talks with the University of Ottawa have been in the works for about a year now, predating the province’s rejection of the francophone university project, Université de Sudbury president Serge Miville said.

“This has always been the plan of the Université de Sudbury, to be in collaboration with other establishments,” he said. “Let's just make that really clear. It's not a reaction or anything like that.”

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont said part of the university’s core mission is to expand the offering of francophone post-secondary programs throughout Ontario.

“We think there are gaps right now in the offerings Franco-Ontarians have,” he said, adding that the University of Ottawa has more than 250 programs in French. 

“We like to believe that many of these programs are smart, they're good, and they could be of interest for people, especially in the north of Ontario,” Frémont said.

Peter Hominuk, executive director of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, is also enthusiastic about the partnership.

“I think it's a wonderful announcement,” he said. “I think it sets the table to offer programming in French here at the University of Sudbury very quickly by 2025.”

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont speaks at a press conference at the Université de Sudbury March 14, 2024. . Heidi Ulrichsen/

Province 'has no plans to reconsider' funding francophone university for Sudbury

Before the aforementioned plans become a reality, government funding is needed.

Asked about the likelihood of this happening, especially in light of the province’s 2023 response to the francophone university proposal, Miville said, “right now we need to finalize our deal, finalize the mechanics of it all, and then we'll go see the governments with this.”

Miville said during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the Université de Sudbury in August 2021, he promised at least $5 million toward a project of this type. 

As for the possibility of provincial funding, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas is not optimistic.

“I don't give people false hope with the Ford government,” said the MPP, speaking to following the March 14 media conference.

“Will they finance this university? I have serious doubts. Will the federal government do (so)? I'm pretty sure they will. So they'll keep them afloat long enough to have a (provincial) government who respects francophones.”

The University of Ottawa’s Jacques Frémont, however, revealed in discussion with that the provincial assistant deputy minister of Colleges and Universities was in attendance at the March 14 announcement.

“So somehow, if they were against it, I mean, I think he would have stayed in his office,” Frémont said.

Following the press conference, reached out to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, requesting an interview with Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop. An interview had not been granted as of this article's publication.

However, a written response we received March 14 from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said the government has no plans to reconsider its decision to not fund the Université de Sudbury as a stand-alone French-language university.

"The ministry welcomes today’s announcement of a partnership agreement between the University of Ottawa and the Université de Sudbury," said the written statement from the ministry. "Today’s agreement signifies a notable collaboration between French-language post-secondary institutions in advancing high-quality post-secondary French-language education in Ontario that will meet the needs of students."

Project now three years in the making 

It has been three years since the University of Sudbury rebranded itself the Université de Sudbury, with plans to become an autonomous French-language university under the principle of governance “by and for” the Francophone community.

Université de Sudbury is one of three educational institutions formerly federated with Laurentian University operating on the LU campus, with their students formerly receiving Laurentian degrees.

But in the weeks before Laurentian University announced in the spring of 2021 it was terminating the federation agreement going back to LU’s founding 60 years before, Université de Sudbury made the decision to transform its operations.

It plans to step into the void caused when Laurentian cut many of its francophone programs during its 2021-22 insolvency.

Université de Sudbury president Serge Miville speaks at a press conference March 14, 2024. Heidi Ulrichsen/

‘An innovative agreement’

Miville emphasized that the Université de Sudbury is not becoming a federated university once again through the partnership with the University of Ottawa, which, like Laurentian University, is a bilingual institution.

“This is a strategic partnership agreement between both establishments, maintaining full autonomy between the both institutions,” he said.

Students studying at the Université de Sudbury will be granted degrees from both the Université de Sudbury and the University of Ottawa. “It's really an innovative agreement,” Miville said.

Although he doesn’t yet have answers in terms of programming or enrolment numbers, Miville said the plan is to offer francophone programming not currently offered in the area, meeting labour needs.

This programming will likely be adapted from what’s offered by the University of Ottawa, and there will be a generous recognition of credits from both universities counting towards students’ degrees.

“Basically, we're going to be having a bit of a mirror of what they do in Ottawa, but we're going to be doing it in the way of the Université de Sudbury, adapted to our students,” Miville said.

Given the Université de Sudbury’s placement on the campus of Laurentian University, we asked if U of S students will be able to take Laurentian courses, and vice-versa, with these courses counting toward their degrees.

“That's a question that we're going to have to ask Laurentian,” Miville said. “I mean, we're open to doing that. We believe strongly that there should be mutual recognition credits between both establishments, that's for sure.”

Laurentian University’s response

Natalie Poulin-Lehoux, Laurentian’s associate vice-president, Francophone affairs, spoke to over the phone following the Université de Sudbury announcement.

She said she’s not sure what the future relationship between Laurentian and the Université de Sudbury would look like, but that all institutions in Ontario already have a mechanism for transferring credits.

Articulation agreements could also be signed to make things easier for students in the two universities.

She said francophone post-secondary institutions in Ontario “are used to working together, and we can and we want to continue doing so.”

Poulin-Lehoux said she’s not surprised by the partnership, given last fall’s blue-ribbon panel report on the financial sustainability of Ontario’s post-secondary sector suggested such collaborations between francophone institutions.

“It wasn't a super big surprise,” she said, adding that “any time you increase the number of programs that are offered in the French language, I mean, that's a win for everyone.” 

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.