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Students are shown at Dawson College in Montreal on Aug. 23, 2021.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Montreal English-language junior colleges are bracing for the year ahead as parts of Quebec’s language law reform take effect, threatening financial penalties for non-compliant schools.

The law, known as Bill 96, limits English junior college enrolment and mandates additional French courses for students.

Colleges that exceed their enrolment caps this school year risk penalties of $7,048 per additional student. Next year, that penalty will only apply to the first 50 excess students, and increase to $14,096 for each pupil beyond that.

Dawson College director general Diane Gauvin says unpredictability in the enrolment process has made complying with its government-imposed cap of about 8,000 full-time students particularly stressful.

“It’s extremely difficult to manage these numbers,” she said in an interview. “We work hard at it, but it’s not an exact science.”

Ms. Gauvin pointed to a higher-than-expected number of returning students this year, as well as uncertainty about the final tally of full-time students after the first few weeks of classes, when some students may switch to part-time studies. Dawson won’t have an accurate enrolment portrait until mid-October, she said.

Also taking effect this year in English colleges is the introduction of a French-language exit exam for students who were not eligible to attend the province’s English-language primary and secondary school system. Those students, including many allophones and francophones, have to pass the test to graduate junior college – and colleges need to provide some courses in French to prepare them.

Students whose parents or siblings went to school in English in Canada have the right to a special certificate that allows them to attend English-language primary and secondary schools in Quebec. Beginning next year, junior college students with those certificates will be forced to take additional French second-language courses or attend some regular program classes in French.

Ms. Gauvin says Dawson has enough faculty members to teach classes in French this semester, but it will have to hire more teachers next year.

Across the city, Vanier College is in a similar situation. Director general John McMahon says the school was able to reassign staff to cover courses in French this year, but he anticipates the impending, additional course requirements could lead to upheaval in the months ahead.

“The question will be, do we have enough teachers currently in order to teach those new French program courses? We do not know at this point what the impact will be,” he said.

Both Ms. Gauvin and Mr. McMahon say Bill 96 is straining their schools’ resources.

“We have stated all along that the time imposed on colleges for the requirements of this bill are putting undue stress on our community,” Mr. McMahon said.

“It is very stressful. There’s a lot of anxiety in the community in terms of how many faculty may be impacted.”

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