Ontario's newest universities are in the north

NOSM University and Université de Hearst became Ontario’s newest universities on Friday when they both gained their independence.

Ontario government passed legislation on June 3, 2021 to grant both universities independence

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) became an independent university on April 1, 2022. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

NOSM University and Université de Hearst became Ontario's newest universities on Friday when they both gained their independence.

On June 3, 2021 the Ontario government passed legislation that would grant both universities their independence.

The bill was tabled in the wake of Laurentian University's insolvency, in February 2021, as a way to distance both institutions from the troubled university.

As of April 1, NOSM, which was also affiliated with Thunder Bay's Lakehead University, became Canada's first stand-alone medical school.

"I'm sure that the other 16 deans and certainly the other five in Ontario are very jealous," said Dr. Sarita Verma, NOSM's dean, president and CEO.

"Many of them are secretly wishing they had an independence day today."

Verma said Canada's 16 medical schools heavily subsidize the universities they are affiliated with.

Dr. Sarita Verma is the dean and CEO of NOSM University. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Verma said she expects NOSM to build on its past success training physicians to serve communities across northern Ontario.

"People in Sudbury and Thunder Bay and many parts of northern Ontario who didn't have a doctor, especially a family doctor, now have one," she said. 

"In rural areas and First Nations communities it's not the case. So we're going to fix that. We're going to make it accessible for kids to come to medical school."

Verma said NOSM will continue to maintain relationships with Laurentian, Lakehead and Algoma University, in Sault Ste. Marie. She said it will also maintain its physical presence with campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, and added its lease with Lakehead is in good standing.

But she said the situation with Laurentian is more complicated as that university restructures and discussions over leases and endowments go through a court monitor.

"I think the lawyers are making more money than anyone else right now," she said.

Université de Hearst was founded in 1953 and was affiliated with Laurentian University in 1963. On April 1, 2022, it became independent. (Francis Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Université de Hearst

Université de Hearst also became independent on Friday.

Its main campus is in Hearst, Ont., a primarily francophone town located 262 kilometres northwest of Timmins, Ont., and it was previously affiliated with Laurentian.

The small francophone university has 250 students spread across three campuses – it also has locations in Timmins and Kapuskasing, Ont. – and three programs, with a fourth on the way.

Diane Macameau Plourde, the university's vice-president, said their business program is their most popular, and a large number of their students are from French-speaking countries in Africa.

Macameau Plourde said its newfound independence will allow the university to develop new programs and better meet its students' needs.

"I expect that the service we're going to be delivering to students is going to be better than right now," she said.

She said their goal is to make Université de Hearst the top choice for Francophone students in Ontario.

On March 28, Université de Hearst received more than $5.7 million in federal and provincial funding for two projects.

The federal government is investing nearly $1.9 million over three years to help the university improve its academic program offerings.

The federal government also provided an additional $887,000 to renovate several rooms and spaces at the Hearst campus. The Ontario government is also providing the university $1.8 million over two years for the same project.

Francophone education in Ontario

Both Laurentian and the University of Ottawa offer programs in English and French. York University's Glendon campus also offers French-language programs. 

The University of Sudbury, which was previously affiliated with Laurentian, is also seeking to become an independent French-language university.

The Université de l'Ontario français in Toronto welcomed its first cohort of full-time students in the fall of 2021.

With files from Markus Schwabe and Jonathan Pinto


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