Gov’t as­sur­ance no plan to close U de H

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - FRONT PAGE - RON GRECH

On­tario Lib­er­als fanned the flames sparked by a re­cent CBC Ra­dio Canada re­port by suggest­ing Premier Doug Ford’s gov­ern­ment may be look­ing at closing Univer­sité de Hearst.

“It would be a mis­take to cut fund­ing at Hearst Univer­sity - and it would be an even big­ger mis­take to close it,” Mitzie Hunter, Fi­nance Critic for the On­tario Liberal Party, stated in a re­lease.

Her re­marks were in re­sponse to a re­port the Ford Gov­ern­ment had been re­view­ing the “sus­tain­abil­ity” of Univer­sité de Hearst — a small univer­sity with cam­puses in Tim­mins, Ka­puskas­ing and Hearst, with a cur­rent en­rol­ment of 160 stu­dents.

Luc Bus­sières, pres­i­dent of Univer­sité de Hearst, told The Daily Press, “We learned that they (the Ford Gov­ern­ment) were wor­ried about the many fi­nan­cial chal­lenges and re­cruit­ment chal­lenges with Hearst univer­sity and they were talk­ing about its sus­tain­abil­ity” in late Au­gust.

Bus­sières said he ad­dressed this with the of­fice of Caroline Mul­roney, Minister of Fran­co­phone Af­fairs.

“I asked, ‘Should we worry about this?’ The meet­ing was held on the 31st of Au­gust. So for me, it was an an­cient story but I wanted to be sure. And in about 15 min­utes, I had the con­fir­ma­tion from the cab­i­net of Caroline Mul­roney that we didn’t have to worry about that. It was an old ques­tion and they were do­ing due dili­gence.”

MPP Gilles Bis­son (NDP — Tim­mins) said this gov­ern­ment dis­cus­sion about the sus­tain­abil­ity of Univer­sité de Hearst came up af­ter “the gov­ern­ment had asked the min­istries to re­view all ex­pen­di­tures so there was a cross-min­istry re­view of ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties that are funded by the prov­ince of On­tario, in­clud­ing Univer­sité de Hearst

“So there was a briefing note that was drafted at the end of Au­gust that pointed out the chal­lenges that we have of op­er­at­ing a univer­sity in North­ern On­tario. We have a smaller stu­dent base and as a re­sult, our cost per pupil is higher but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you don’t of­fer the ser­vice.”

Bis­son said when he heard about the re­view, he spoke with the lead­er­ship at the Univer­sité de Hearst.

He said the idea of the univer­sity be­ing closed wasn’t a pri­mary con­cern or even a con­sid­er­a­tion.

“They were not so much con­cerned that this would lead to some sort of clo­sure of the univer­sity, but more so about what it would mean for fund­ing in the bud­get com­ing in the spring of 2019,” said Bis­son.

“I would have been re­ally sur­prised if the gov­ern­ment, af­ter what they did with the French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner and the univer­sity in Toronto, would at­tempt to close Univer­sité de Hearst. All hell would break loose.

“Last week, that 41-com­mu­nity protest that hap­pened across On­tario and the floor cross­ing of Amanda Si­mard over that is­sue has re­ally put the gov­ern­ment back on their heels with the fran­co­phone com­mu­nity. They may not re­verse those de­ci­sions yet. They may in the fu­ture. Who knows? But they’re cer­tainly not want­ing to es­ca­late that and that was my sort of feel­ing.”

While sens­ing there is no im­me­di­ate threat, Bis­son warned against com­pla­cency, es­pe­cially for those want­ing to pre­serve French­language ser­vices and ed­u­ca­tion.

“We know this gov­ern­ment is go­ing to be mov­ing quite ag­gres­sively on the ex­pen­di­tures side,” said Bis­son. “What that means for the Univer­sité de Hearst in the up­com­ing spring bud­get is yet to be seen. It could be quite prob­lem­atic but we don’t know that yet … I don’t think at this point they’re go­ing to move on the short-term on any­thing like that but the com­mu­nity should stay vig­i­lant and we should keep the pres­sure on the Ford Gov­ern­ment.”

Univer­sity pres­i­dent Bus­sières said he would be sur­prised if the On­tario Gov­ern­ment had de­signs on shut­ting down the univer­sity con­sid­er­ing en­rol­ment and in­ter­est in the univer­sity has been on the rise.

He said at least half of the stu­dents are from out­side of the re­gion — and many of those are in­ter­na­tional stu­dents from France and from sev­eral coun­tries in Africa where French is the pre­dom­i­nant lan­guage spo­ken.

“We are no longer the small univer­sity serv­ing only the French peo­ple in our re­gion,” said Bus­sières. “In the last five years, we have dou­bled the num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled at our univer­sity. So we have had great suc­cess and that’s why we would be very sur­prised if the gov­ern­ment would make a de­ci­sion like cut­ting Hearst Univer­sity.”

Ron GrecH/THE DAILY PRESS

Luc Bus­sières, pres­i­dent of Univer­sité de Hearst, said an On­tario Gov­ern­ment dis­cus­sion of the sus­tain­abil­ity of the univer­sity was trig­gered by the fact the cost of op­er­a­tion per pupil is higher than at other larger cam­puses. Bus­siËres said he was given as­sur­ances the gov­ern­ment has no in­ten­tion of closing the school.

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