For young anglos, educational opportunities are declining

Cégep en français

DAVID JOHNSTON - MONTREAL - The other day I was talking to a colleague who told me she’s been hearing anglophone parents of high-school students expressing hope that Bill 101 is toughened to keep francophones and immigrants out of English-language CEGEPs.
Normally, language crackdowns aren’t something anglophones like to see in Quebec. But competition for limited spots in English CEGEPs, which are not bound by Bill 101, has become more intense as applications have risen through the ongoing economic sluggishness.
The access quandary is politically amplified by the fact that old attitudes toward English in Quebec are breaking down. Bright, ambitious young francophones and children of immigrants increasingly see English CEGEPs as stepping stones out into the wider world.
As a result, admission standards in English CEGEPs are rising, and some B students from anglophone high schools aren’t getting into their programs of first choice. The March 1 application deadline for CEGEP and university spells the beginning of a stressful wait for many students.
But access anxiety among anglophones isn’t confined to CEGEP admissions. At the high-school level, the Quebec government has begun putting the brakes on future expansion of English-language vocational education. And at the university level, the city’s premier institute of higher learning, McGill University, continues to be very difficult for local applicants to get into.

After Heather Munroe-Blum was named principal of McGill in 2003, she visited The Gazette and spoke to the editorial board about the different visions and missions of Canada’s two best universities – the University of Toronto, where she had served from 1994 to 2002, and McGill. U of T, she said in 2003, and again in another meeting with The Gazette two months ago, operates under a provincial charter with an explicitly provincial mission; as a result, more than 80 per cent of students are from the metropolitan Toronto area, or Ontario more generally. McGill, on the other hand, functions more openly in terms of geography, according to Scottish Enlightenment policies by which roughly a quarter of McGill students are drawn from Montreal, a quarter from the rest of Quebec, a quarter from the rest of Canada and a quarter from the rest of the world.
In fact, actual proportions can differ from year to year. Last year, McGill published figures showing 54 per cent of students in 2010 were from Quebec (without distinguishing between Montreal and the rest of Quebec), 25 per cent from the rest of Canada and 21 per cent from the rest of the world. By comparison, access is much easier at Concordia University and the two French-language universities in Montreal.
Vocational education at the English high-school level is another story, however. Someone who is very highly placed in the world of Quebec education told me at the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations annual meeting last fall in Beaconsfield that English school boards are having a terrible time getting Quebec to approve new student spaces in English vocational education.
“The problem,” the person told me, “is that the ministry has started to say to us, ‘You’re trying to get us to create English jobs,’ but we’re not. Vocational training is part of the education system, but the government has started to decouple the two.”
A generation ago, most of my friends and I went through high school, CEGEP and university here in Quebec without much of an access problem, although most of my friends ended up leaving Quebec for political and/or linguistic reasons.
Today, things seem to be the other way around. Young anglos are generally more proficient in French now, but educational opportunities in their own language, in their own province, seem to be decreasing. This has left me wondering whether we are going to start losing young anglos to other provinces because of it.
Then again, things could change – at least at the CEGEP level. The Parti Québécois is promising, if it wins the next general election, to look at toughening Bill 101 in order to put an end to freedom of choice in language of education at CEGEPs. It’s hard to imagine that there are federalist anglophones in Montreal pulling for a PQ victory. But there are definitely anglophone teenagers and parents out there who would see a silver lining in a PQ win and language crackdown.

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