CHURCH POINT, N.S. – Founded in 1890, Université Sainte-Anne has a deep and illustrious history on the Acadian shore of Nova Scotia and key staff members predict it has an even brighter future.
Hughie Batherson, vice-president of recruitment and partnerships, attended Sainte-Anne where he achieved several degrees before he worked his way through the ranks into a professor’s role, and more recently earned his current role. Batherson has witnessed many changes through the years at the campus, and he is very hopeful about the university’s future.
“Despite the aging demographic challenges and the depopulation of rural areas we’re seeing across Atlantic Canada, we’re holding our own,” Batherson said. “This year, we’re up one per cent in Canadian students over last year, and our enrolment in our seven college-level programs is up as well.”
He pointed out that according to his research there are now more than 35,000 Acadians in Nova Scotia, with a surprising 18,000 of those residing in Halifax.
“That’s kind of a weird statistic,” Batherson said. “French schools are closing in rural Nova Scotia and in Halifax they’re expanding. The tide is going the other way, as our population becomes more centralized in the cities.”
Batherson also raves about the university’s five-week spring and summer immersion programs that attract more than 500 participants annually. The university’s Halifax campus, where Batherson now has his office, has attracted more than 1,200 students to its French-language training programs through its continuing education department.
Sainte-Anne’s main campus in Church Point, Digby County, has even expanded its programming, this year introducing the integrated French immersion option for anglophone students who have attended a French immersion program secondary school. In its first year, the innovative program offers the opportunity for these students to become fully bilingual with the support of a bridge program that includes individual support to perfect their language skills and allows them to complete their degree in the same timeline as first-language French speakers.
University president Allister Surette is in his seventh year leading the institution and, like Batherson, his enthusiasm for the school is very apparent.
“There is lots to love about Sainte-Anne,” he said at a reception held Nov. 4 honouring selected university alumni for post-graduate achievements.
Surette says the university is well positioned to respond to a reported crisis in the need for French-first language school teachers in regional boards across the province and in bilingual staffing requirements in the province’s health-care field.
“We have recently recruited several new professors,” Surette said, “and they are not only interested in teaching, but also in community involvement. We are committed to not only working with the local community but to try and support the local community.”
To demonstrate his point, Surette mentioned the addition of two research chairs, who are funded by the federal government to specialize in Acadian studies, and that the university also hosts an Acadian centre.
In recent years, Surette said they’ve actively broadened the university’s horizons by working to attract more international students, and by ensuring their French immersion program retains its top position in Canada for programs of its kind.
As the former provincial MLA and former minister of Acadian affairs, Surette is very clear in his vision for the university and for the province.
“We are very proud of the diversity we have achieved here with local, national and international students. My dream is that one day Nova Scotia develops the same diversity that we now see here on campus.”
This year, the Church Point campus is hosting 100 international students, down from 150 students who attended in 2016, a number that Batherson is expecting will soon rebound.
“We had more than 900 applications from international students for September. However, like other francophone universities and colleges, those students are struggling to obtain their visas in a timely fashion,” Batherson said. “It’s a very slow process. The desire is there and all of the tools are in place on the recruitment side, so like several other institutions, we’re hoping more students will arrive in January.”
Batherson also pointed out that there are more than 300 million Francophones in the world. “With increased worldwide mobility, people are choosing Canada to attend school and as a destination to live because we have French as an official language and because Canada is considered a safe country.”
He believes there will always be a place for a French-speaking university in Nova Scotia.
“French is not our second language, it’s an official language,” he said. “To me, we should value our French as much as our English.”