Over the next four years, the federal government will spend $12 million on bursaries to help English-speaking students pursue post-secondary education in French.
Anglophone high school graduates who enrol in French-language programmes at select CEGEPs, colleges, or universities would be eligible for approximately 3,400 $3,000 bursaries. According to the government, the money would be allocated via post-secondary schools, with special consideration given to students from underrepresented groups.
The initiative is part of Ottawa’s drive to improve bilingualism in Canada as the controversy in Quebec about the state of the French language heats up.
Mélanie Joly, Minister of Official Languages, will hold a virtual press conference with Lynn Brouillette, President and CEO of the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne, this morning (ACUFC). Students who won bursaries for the 2020-2021 school year will follow the minister.
“We know that Canadians have wanted to learn French for a long time but haven’t always had the opportunity,” Joly said in an interview before the announcement.
“The aim is to ensure that young Canadians who want to study in their second language can do so and that the federal government is prepared to assist them if they can’t afford to pay their tuition.”
Students must be Canadian nationals or permanent residents with English as their first official language and have graduated from an English-language high school to be qualified for a bursary. They must be at least 17 years old, enrolled in their first year of French study, have adequate French knowledge to study in that language, and plan to complete 50% of their coursework in that language.
Concerns about the French language in Quebec
The funding announcement comes as Quebec’s Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to overhaul the province’s language laws to improve French-language rights. In recent years, many in Quebec have claimed that French is losing ground to English, especially in Montreal.
According to Quebec Premier François Legault, the legal reform could include quotas that restrict the number of students who may enrol in English CEGEPs to address the growing number of French students enrolling in English programmes after high school.
The provincial minister in charge of the French language is expected to enact legislation shortly.
Joly recently applied several federal proposals to the mix, including changes to the Official Languages Act. One of the initiatives will ensure that all federally controlled private companies with more than 50 workers in Quebec and other mainly French-speaking communities throughout Canada have the right to operate in French.
Establishing a structure for a francophone immigration policy, enshrining a requirement that the Supreme Court of Canada justices is bilingual, and removing waiting lists for French immersion programmes are among the other initiatives.
According to the paper, the changes are intended to create a “modern linguistic equilibrium” in a world where the growth of digital technology and foreign trade is promoting the use of English at work and home, while the use of French is decreasing.
“We’ve all worked hard to ensure that the federal government is bilingual,” Joly said. “What we want to do now is take it a step further and assist people in being bilingual.”