Politics

Ottawa launching bursary fund to help anglophone postsecondary students study in French

The federal government will spend $12 million over the next four years on bursaries to help English-speaking students pursue their postsecondary education in French.

Announcement comes amid debate over state of French language and push to update Official Languages Act

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly says the federal government will spend $12 million to help young people from under-represented groups enrol in French immersion programs. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal government will spend $12 million over the next four years on bursaries to help English-speaking students pursue post-secondary education in French.

Approximately 3,400 bursaries worth $3,000 each will be available to anglophone secondary school graduates who enrol in French-language programs at select CEGEPs, colleges or universities. The government says the funding will be disbursed through post-secondary institutions and special consideration will be given to students from under-represented groups.

The initiative is part of a push by Ottawa to strengthen bilingualism in Canada as debate over the state of the French language intensifies in Quebec.

"We know that, for a long time, Canadians have been wanting to learn French but sometimes they didn't have the opportunity," said Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly in an interview.

"The idea is to make sure that young Canadians that want to study in their second language have the chance to do so and that the federal government can be there to help them out when they're not able to pay their tuition."

To be eligible for a bursary, students must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents whose first official language is English, and must have graduated from an English-language high school. They must be at least 17 years old, be enrolled in their first year of study in French, have sufficient knowledge of French to be able to study in that language and plan to take 50 per cent of their coursework in French.

Concerns about the state of French in Quebec

The funding announcement comes as the provincial Coalition Avenir Québec government plans an overhaul of Quebec's language laws, with an eye to strengthening protections for the French language. Many in Quebec have argued in recent years that French is losing ground to English, especially in Montreal.

Quebec Premier François Legault has said that the legal overhaul may include quotas that limit the number of students who can enrol at English CEGEPs in order to counter the growing number of French students enrolling in English programs after high school.

The provincial minister responsible for the French language is expected to table legislation in the near future. 

Chris Dick is a first year law student at the University of Manitoba who studied in French this year using a different bursary. He said he welcomes the new funding as a way to promote linguistic diversity in Canada.

"I think it's really great news. It will encourage a lot of students that would otherwise just pursue university in English to try their hand at the French side of things," he said. "A program like this is definitely going to benefit and promote bilingualism and the diversity of language in Canada."

The CAQ government wants to limit the number of spots available in English CEGEPs to promote and protect the French language in Quebec. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Last month, Joly added a series of federal proposals that would modify the Official Languages Act to the mix. One of those proposals would guarantee the right to work in French in all federally regulated private businesses with more than 50 employees in Quebec, and in other predominantly French-speaking communities across Canada.

Other proposals include establishing a framework for a francophone immigration policy, enshrining into law a requirement that Supreme Court of Canada justices be bilingual and eliminating waiting lists for French immersion programs.

The document said the reforms are meant to establish a "new linguistic balance" in a world where the growth of digital technology and international trade is encouraging the use of English, while the use of French at work and at home is declining.

"For a long time, we've always really made sure that the federal government itself would be bilingual," said Joly. "What we want to do is we want to go further and we want to help people become bilingual themselves."

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