An eastern Quebec-based junior college defended its right to operate a Montreal campus offering English-only classes to foreign students on Tuesday, amid criticism from provincial politicians concerned with the state of French-language education.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge took aim at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles on Tuesday morning, insisting it translate an English-only website and add French classes at the Montreal campus, which caters to international students who come mostly from China and India.
The junior college, or CEGEP, opened a Montreal satellite in 2015, which now counts some 2,000 international students. While the school’s other campuses teach primarily in French, the Montreal location only offers English classes.
Sylvain Vachon, a spokesman for the school, said the Montreal campus is entirely privately funded and well within its rights to give courses in both English and French.
“We’re a bilingual CEGEP, so it’s in our genetic code to give training in both languages,” Vachon said in a phone interview.
But while Vachon said the Ministry of Education had “no authority” to close the campus, he said the school has agreed to rapidly translate the program’s website, and had long planned to begin offering courses in French this September.
Vachon said the school was responding to an opportunity when it opened the campus in 2015, after being approached by a business partner that wanted to find a college that could respond to both English and French-speaking clients.
In four years, the campus has grown from 35 students to about 2,000, each paying $15,000 or more per year in tuition.
Earlier, Roberge had expressed a particular objection to the campus’s website, which is only in English.
“It basically says: ‘Welcome to Canada,”’ he told reporters in Quebec City.
“It doesn’t say that Quebec is the only francophone state in North America, it doesn’t say that people who choose to come study in Montreal come to a city where we speak French. I think it’s a problem.”
However, he expressed confidence he would be able to resolve the issues with the school.
Some junior colleges, which have long claimed under-funding, have been looking for other ways to boost revenue in order to maintain services for their regional francophone students.
When questioned on the issue Tuesday, Premier François Legault said his government has boosted funding, thus eliminating the need for French schools to recruit English-speaking students from Asia.
“We added $150 million exactly to avoid this type of scenario,” he told a news conference, adding that he “wasn’t comfortable” with a school from Quebec’s easternmost region teaching English students in Montreal.
A group dedicated to promoting the French language had called on Roberge to act to limit new English-only college programs, claiming they contribute to the erosion of the French language.
Mouvement Québec français suggested extending Quebec’s language law — which sets restrictions on access to English education — to cover junior colleges.
On Tuesday, members of Quebec’s opposition parties echoed Roberge’s concerns.
Marwah Rizqy, the Liberal party’s education critic, said a regional college running an all-English campus with an English website “clearly does not advance French.”
The Parti Québécois’ Pascal Bérubé, for his part, suggested the problem was mainly one of financing.
But, he added, “One thing is certain: you have to give (to foreign students) an immersion in a French-speaking world … when they come.”
Vachon said the website was in English because that’s the preferred language of the students the school is recruiting.
Nevertheless, he said it would be translated into French in the coming days.
— with files from Morgan Lowrie