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The Globe and Mail

French studies losing ground in university

 French language teacher Francois Marien conducts a class in Montreal, Friday, October 19, 2012.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

After an 18-year run, the University of Regina is shuttering its francophone studies program. The number of graduates: Zero.

Parents may be clamouring to enroll their children in French studies in the early years, but interest appears to wane among university-age students. Post-secondary institutions in many parts of the country have seen a drop off in applicants, and are either shutting down, scaling back or pausing their French programs.

Thomas Chase, the University of Regina's provost and vice-president academic, said only one student is currently enrolled in the university's undergraduate French program; three were registered four years ago.

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"The fact that there's only one is a pretty clear indication that the program simply was not attracting enough student demand and enough student interest to warrant its continuation," he said.

Government cutbacks across the university sector have led institutions to re-examine their humanities and, in particular, language programs. Officials speculate the lack of interest in university-level French programs stems in part from student worries about the labour market, and what their degree will be worth once they enter the work force.

"It's very difficult to put a finger on a single reason. Students' lives, students' wishes, students' aspirations, students' conceptions and their parents conception of the labour market and what is going to get them gainful employment are all interlocked, interrelated and very complex," Mr. Chase said.

At Queen's University, officials have decided to temporarily suspend admissions to their graduate programs in French studies. Brenda Brouwer, dean of graduate studies, said there has been a 60-per-cent decline in the applicant pool since 2008 – and that is not unique to Queen's.

"In talking to my colleagues across the province and indeed from other provinces as well, many of them do report that there have been declines in languages quite generally," Ms. Brouwer said. "Students are looking perhaps for something a little bit different."

The department will use the time to restructure the graduate studies program. The 14 graduate students currently enrolled will continue to work toward their degrees.

"It's not so much that the interest is necessarily not there, but they might have other ambitions," Ms. Brouwer said. "Perhaps it's what they perceive as career opportunities afterward. That is increasingly on the minds of prospective applicants and people in graduate studies, where is their degree going to take them."

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One university president, however, says that if students are around others speaking French, they are more likely to stick with the program. Dominic Giroux of Laurentian University, which specializes in French programming, said enrolment in French-language programs has been stable for a number of years. Still, applications for the fall are up 2 per cent in French-language programs, compared with an increase of 19 per cent in English-language programs.

"My sense is increasingly that students who want to pursue university studies in their second language or their mother language in a linguistic minority setting will want to be a part of a university community where they will have a critical mass of students and faculty members to interact in the language they're studying in," Mr. Giroux said.

Editor's Note: The above article said one student is currently enrolled in the University of Regina's undergraduate French program. There is one student in the Francophone studies program, 21 Arts students with a declared major in French, and 110 students enrolled in the French Baccalauréat en éducation program, majoring in French language education and minoring in various subject areas.

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