From November 6 to 8, 2019, the University of Ottawa hosted a delegation of 13 renowned universities from West and Central Africa in order to discuss potential partnerships between our institutions. This initiative, put forth by Enrolment Management under the leadership of Alain Malette, Senior Director, Enrolment Management and Oumar Ibrahima Toure, Strategic Advisor Sub-Sahara Africa, proved to be a compelling showcase for our respective realities and a launch pad for promising partnerships.
Jérémie Séror, OLBI Director and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts, was there to represent the Institute. We asked him to share his perspective on the event:
Please provide the context behind this event.
For several years now, the University has been interested, as part of its mission to promote bilingualism and the Francophonie, in creating relationships with the African continent. A few years ago, Mr. Frémont, the President of the University, Mr. David Graham, the former Provost, as well as Mr. Oumar Toure, Strategic Advisor for Sub-Sahara Africa, amongst others have undertaken several field trips in order to establish connections with African universities. The University would like to establish a link with this continent that is undergoing a profound transformation and promote a variety of opportunities in place at the University of Ottawa, including those around the question of bi/multilingualism a strong reality in Africa. In fact, African people often speak 3, 4 or 5 languages and those linguistic realities resonate quite well with our experiences here.
In your opinion, what are some of the shared values between these institutions and OLBI?
The context surrounding each of these universities is quite different, but they also share common values and a common language, French. So, I think that there is an interest in enabling Francophone or Franco-dominant students and professors to achieve a level of bilingualism through language teaching, and in particular through teaching English, which is clearly an important language on a global scale. There is also an interest in research and best practices that could result from close collaboration with respect to best practices, such as university governance and the services that can be provided within a university.
What would OLBI have to contribute to a potential partnership?
I think there was a lot of interest in the kind of work we do here at OLBI because we bring together several areas of expertise such as teaching, research, language assessment and language policies under one roof. Therefore, our work allows us to bring together various experts with different experiences. Indeed, it is interesting to meet experts who share the same interests, in order to connect them, through our networks, with other researchers who may have specific expertise relevant to them, whether it is teachers, researchers or young academics.
How would OLBI benefit from a partnership with one of the African universities that took part in the meetings?
I think that even if we ask the same questions, we all bring different elements to our answers. We also have different expertise, so there will be researchers and some African students’ life experiences that will add something we may not have in terms of perspective, experience or capacity.
How important is the Afro-Francophone market to the University of Ottawa?
It represents a very important pool of Francophones because it is the continent with the greatest future growth of young Francophones. So, for the University of Ottawa, quite familiar with a minority context of a Francophone population in Ontario, the possibility of establishing very good relationships with Africa and potentially working with a generation of students who will enrich the University of Ottawa's Francophonie is absolutely in line with the University's strategic priorities.
What can you tell us about the internal collaboration that was particularly important for this initiative?
It is often said that universities have the unfortunate tendency to work in silos. Everyone does their own thing, each focusing on their own task, but ultimately it makes one feel somewhat isolated. However, during this event, we felt that the entire campus made a collective effort to ensure a warm welcome. As a result, there were many presentations, conversations and events that brought together all these important actors and allowed everyone to know what the others were doing as well as discuss ways to work together in order to meet our potential partners’ needs.
Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share?
It was interesting to see the great diversity of this continent. Every situation is different and each country has a different history. But, at the same time, we could see that they all had the same mission. There was a strong sense of the opportunity represented by the arrival of a large pool of young people and the role they can play for the future of Africa in a world where the demographic trends are often completely reversed. But it was also clear that welcoming these young people was not without its challenges. There is therefore a strong desire to ensure that there will be no missed opportunities with this generation that is coming by working hard to create the education systems needed to meet the needs of these youth. It is very exciting to know that we could help to play a role in achieving this great mission.