THE QUEBEC HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE CANADIAN CONTEXT AND INTERNATIONALLY

Address by professor Bruno-Marie Béchard,
rector of the Université de Sherbrooke (Canada)
at Fu Jen University

Taipei, Taiwan

October 19, 2006

Distinguished Colleagues,
Dear Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank Fu Jen University for inviting me to speak about the system of higher education in Quebec.

In my country, just like in Taiwan, universities have to ensure the quality of their respective programs to meet the needs of ever-changing societies in a globally-linked World, and to engage in a process of expanding internationalisation.

My presentation will be divided into two parts: first, the Quebec specificity within the Canadian context, and secondly, some information about studying in Quebec and then, about the Université de Sherbrooke itself.

– I –

The Canadian context and Quebec's role within it

According to the Canadian constitution, some areas of jurisdiction are specific to the provinces and placed under their exclusive responsibility. These areas of jurisdiction include education, culture and health. This is an important factor to understand when we talk about Canadian academic matters in higher education, such as joint programs, integrated curricula, recognition of dual degrees, coadvising of theses, student exchange programs and so many of the other realities that take place when the universities of the World cooperate with one another.

This is why, in Canada, there is no such thing as a national Ministry of Education or a national organisation that oversees higher education over the entire country. And there is a huge diversity indeed in the organisation of studies in the various provinces and especially between Quebec and what we call the ROC (Rest of Canada).

Moreover, in each and every Canadian province, universities have great autonomy over the organisation of their studies and the international agreements that are frequently negotiated concerning these academic programs. There is generally an organisation, even at the provincial government level, and/or within some educational forums, that proposes general guidelines for university governance with the objective of promoting, if not assuring, the quality and the validity of the programs and curricula. For instance, all of Quebec's universities are grouped together in the CREPUQ (Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities – in French: Conférence des recteurs et principaux des universités du Québec).

The Quebec and Canada university forums

I would like to talk here specifically about this forum to illustrate the role and duties of the organisation in Quebec. All of Quebec's universities get together in the CREPUQ to discuss general orientations and to collaborate, on a voluntary basis, on the many issues relevant to the province's universities. Over time, the CREPUQ has been recognised by the government of Quebec as the common voice of its universities.

All the academic programs within each university must be approved by an evaluation committee composed of external experts named by the CREPUQ's committee on Academic Affairs before being sent to the Ministry of Education for financial support. It is the CREPUQ that is in charge of the academic evaluation of each program proposed by the universities and for their continued approval following the periodic evaluation of these same programs, a process that takes place at least every seven years. The provincial government does not intervene in the academic evaluation process. It receives the program proposal with the academic evaluation from the CREPUQ for its own final approval and possible subsequent financial support. Then, the Ministry of Education decides if and how this specific program will be financially supported. It is important to know that the provincial government decides about the financial support of every program and the maximum tuition fees that may be asked of the students. It is also the provincial government that establishes the special fee structure for international students.

The CREPUQ is also responsible, in Quebec, for negotiating and signing agreements in the field of student exchanges with similar organisations. Normally, the CREPUQ will not sign with individual institutions. It is the right of each institution to negotiate and sign bilateral agreements. And on the multilateral front, even though the CREPUQ acts as the representative of all the universities in the negotiation of agreements, the individual institution may use its privilege to opt out. There is no formal constraint on any university. Each institution may also sign agreements with universities that are not covered by a general agreement.

At the federal level, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) plays a complementary role, where all Canadian universities work together on certain matters, notably the lobbying for ensuring the development of institutional research, a responsibility of the federal government.

Different types of practices in international academic collaboration

Collaboration on academic programs has taken many different forms in recent years. I will now enlighten you about some of the ones used by Quebec universities and Sherbrooke in particular during the past decade. I will focus on:

  1. Programs in extension or delocalisation of programs;
  2. Integrated programs;
  3. Programs of cotutorship (cotutelle) at the Ph.D. level;
  4. Programs of collaboration with an integrated student mobility agreement that recognises the participation of different partners in the learning process.

After each explanation, I will illustrate the kind of recognition that may be given to students.

1. Programs in extension

The Université de Sherbrooke is involved in the delocalisation of some of its programs. For example, it offers its MBA program in foreign countries like Morocco and France. It has also adapted this program for some local and international enterprises like its credit union financial network, the Caisses populaires Desjardins or the international pulp and paper company, Cascades in Quebec or Les Entreprises Nicolas Feuillate in France. We also offer a Ph.D. program in education in Angers, France, and we have just completed the presentation of this same program in Feira de Santana in Brazil. In Bolivia, we instituted a Master's program in higher education pedagogy, and so on...

Generally, in a delocalisation experience, the overall program is offered to the first group of students by regular professors from our University. After that, some courses may be given by local associate professors who respond to the criteria of the university responsible for the program. Nevertheless, most of the time, almost one third of the program will be given by regular professors from the university that awards the final diploma.

This kind of delocalisation implies that professors from the university that is responsible for awarding the diploma will travel to the foreign country and give their teaching generally within an intensive agenda.

At the end of the program, students receive their recognition, a diploma, from the Université de Sherbrooke. The funding of this kind of delocalisation is done through an agreement between the Université de Sherbrooke and a foreign institution, or foundation, or private enterprise that wants to have this particular program in its own country.

This kind of academic collaboration can pursue different objectives. For example, the delocalisation of our Master's degree in Higher Education Pedagogy in a Chilean University was made to support a pedagogical transformation of teaching in a faculty. The Ph.D. program in Feira de Santana was implemented to support this University in its desire to set up a research group within its Faculty of Education, etc. Normally, this kind of action is a short-term one.

2. Integrated programs

Integrated programs are another way that allows the collaboration between two or three universities in the construction, implementation and achievement of a common program for a mixed group of students enrolled in their respective universities. In the end, the students will obtain two diplomas: one from Sherbrooke with the mention of the participation of the sister university, and one from sister university with the mention of the participation of the Université de Sherbrooke.

For example, in Sherbrooke, we offer the Master's level in International Management in collaboration with the École Supérieure de Commerce et de Management (ESCEM) of Tours and Poitiers in France. Over the past 15 years, roughly 15 students from Sherbrooke and 15 from Poitiers have been admitted each year to this program and have spent six months in Sherbrooke and six months in Poitiers to complete their courses. At the end, they obtain two diplomas, one from ESCEM and one from Sherbrooke and the collaboration between the two institutions in the realisation of the program is mentioned on each institution's diploma.

To start this kind of program implies that the two universities or schools have the willingness and the capacity to collaborate. It also requires major work in program design, coordination, evaluation and constant communication. The reward to the students is real «added value» with double diploma and double professional recognition. It can be built only by institutions that are considered similar in orientation and equal in terms of quality and reputation.

3. Programs of cotutorship at the Ph.D. level

In Quebec there is an official program of cotutorship with French universities. This program was created following the Quebec-France general agreement signed by the premier of Quebec and the prime minister of France. It was negotiated by the CREPUQ with its French counterpart and approved by the two ministries of education for financial support purposes. It allows Ph.D. students to register simultaneously in two institutions, one in France and one in Quebec, and to be directed in their research project by two directors belonging to two different universities, one from France and one from Quebec. The program makes it mandatory for the student to spend half of his or her time of study and research in each university and to fulfill the requisites of both universities. The student is also asked to defend a thesis in front of a mixed jury of experts from the two universities.

In the end, students obtain a double diploma: one from the Quebec university involved and the other from the French institution concerned. Each of these mentions the participation of the other university in the completion of the Ph.D.

This model has been extended to some other countries as well by Quebec universities. When it is conducted outside of France (because of the historic close ties in support of the French language itself), Quebec universities are not given the same financial support and they have to negotiate special arrangements. In Sherbrooke, for example, we already have some cotutorship programs in operation with a Belgian university.

To ensure the success of this kind of program, it must be based on existing collaboration between researchers who accept to receive and to direct together a student in their centre or laboratory. It cannot be a spontaneous generation process. The success of the cotutorship lies in a real existing team spirit and close collaboration between the two directors.

4. Programs of collaboration with an integrated student mobility agreement

The programs of collaboration with an integrated student mobility agreement are more flexible for students. This type of collaboration is based on the existence of a university's network around a program and the recognition of the eventual contribution of different partners in the curriculum followed by a student.

In Sherbrooke, we have one example of this kind: our Master's in Environmental Studies. The program committee has made an analysis of similar programs given by some South American and French-speaking European universities. The committee came to the conclusion that there were three universities among those observed that offer compatible programs in the field of environmental studies that can allow, under certain conditions, profitable student exchange. The director of the Sherbrooke program visited these universities and discussed with them the way the student mobility program could be initiated. He created a network with these three universities allowing students to go for one or two semesters during their program to one or two partner institutions to complete their curricula, even though they were still registered in the Sherbrooke program. Students have to spend at least one third of their studies in Sherbrooke but for the other two thirds, they may be the beneficiaries of the mobility program to continue their work in a foreign university.

At the end of their program, students are given a Sherbrooke diploma with the mention of the participation of the other universities. The same process is possible in the three other universities participating in the network.

As you can see, there are many ways to collaborate in the construction of programs and to develop different forms of recognition of the learning process involved. The main concern that we should all have in mind is that the formula chosen really adds value to the programs offered and that the work and experiences of the students involved enhance them both personally and academically.

– II –

Now I would like to briefly tell you about the overall structure of our system of education and provide you with some information about studying in Quebec.

The Quebec educational system consists of four levels:

  • Primary level, which extends for 6 years and in which the children who attend classes are from 6 to 12 years old;
  • Secondary level, lasting 5 years;
  • Community college level, called «collège d'enseignement général et professionnel», also known as cégep. Students can choose between the general 2-year track that will lead directly to university programs or the 3-year professional track, which normally graduates them into the job market as technicians;
  • University level, where undergraduate and graduate programs are offered.

    • The undergraduate studies offer Bachelor's degrees. At this level, three or four years of study lead to a Bachelor's degree.
    • At the graduate levels, Master's and Doctoral programs are offered. The Master's program takes from eighteen months to two years of study and leads to a Master's degree. This degree is obtained by either doing research or by attending courses.
    • The Doctoral program (Ph.D. or DBA Administration) takes from three to five years. Most Doctoral programs investigate and use fundamental or applied research.

Canadian diplomas are highly valued around the World and Quebec universities have an excellent reputation for the quality and diversity of their programs. Universities throughout the World consult our CREPUQ about our process of creation and evaluation of academic programs. The assessment process of our programs is very rigorous and it has a public character. The Commission of Evaluation of the CREPUQ and the Quebec Ministry of Education evaluate and sanction all the new programs submitted by our local universities. For this activity, independent evaluators from all over the World are appointed to assess the new programs. After implementation, each program is evaluated at least every seven years and a report is submitted to the same Commission at the provincial level as mentioned earlier.

The financing of universities and their tuition fees are fixed by the provincial government. Currently, the situation is the same as it was in Taiwan before 1999. The tuition is based on uniform standards decided by the government. There is nothing like the «Flexible Tuition Plan» that was implemented in Taiwan.

For foreign students, the annual fees assessed for the upcoming years are:

  • CAD $10,020 for a Bachelor's degree;
  • CAD $15,030 for a Master's degree;
  • CAD $13,590 for a Doctorate.

For the Bachelor's level, tuition fees are based on a study period of 8 months, or 2 terms. For the graduate levels, the fees are based on a study period of 12 months or 3 terms. There are also fees during the «writing process» of theses in Master's and Doctoral programs. These fees are CAD $500 for each term.

You can get more information on our web site at www.USherbrooke.ca under the title «International.»

The Université de Sherbrooke

After this brief overview of our system of higher education, I would like to talk to you more specifically about the Université de Sherbrooke.

It is located in the city of Sherbrooke, some 150 kilometres east of Montreal, near the north-eastern U.S.A. border. Sherbrooke is a city of 150,000 inhabitants, with a very secure social and living environment and a remarkable quality of life. The Université de Sherbrooke is a French-speaking university, but all its professors are at least bilingual. There is also a renowned English-speaking university in Sherbrooke, with which we develop many collaborative projects: Bishop's University.

35,000 students attend the Université de Sherbrooke, of whom one half are studying on a full-time basis. It has been welcoming international students ever since it was founded over 50 years ago and each year the numbers increase. Currently, more than 1,300 foreign students from over sixty countries worldwide attend the Université de Sherbrooke.

With an operating budget of 9 B NT$ per year and research funds of 1.5 B NT$, the University has 5,600 employees, including 3,000 professors, lecturers and clinical professors. Our University counts 9 schools called faculties: Business; Education; Engineering; Human Sciences and Literature; Law; Medicine and Health Sciences; Physical Education and Sports; Sciences; Theology, Ethics and Philosophy. At the graduate level, we offer 45 Master's degrees and 27 Doctoral programs.

Since the day it was founded, the Université de Sherbrooke has distinguished itself by doing things differently when it comes to educating and conducting research.

Today, Sherbrooke is internationally renowned for its leadership in developing co-op programs, problem- and project-based learning approaches, as well as mandate-based curricula. With 55 research chairs in the most advanced fields of expertise, its research funding has quadrupled over the last six years.

In Sherbrooke, our first preoccupation is to give the best experience possible to our students, and the appreciation of our students ranks at the very top among Canadian universities in terms of student satisfaction. As a matter of fact, again this year, we rank first in Canada according to The Globe and Mail national newspaper's University Report Card. I invite you to consult this report on the Web at www.theglobeandmail.com/reportcard. You will see for yourself how our students appreciate studying at the Université de Sherbrooke.

Sherbrooke is proud of its original and innovative contributions to the advancement of society. As a leading University, it is dedicated to preparing its students to become tomorrow's leaders.

Our University is also on the World's stage. We presently hold graduation ceremonies in 6 different countries on 4 continents. At the last graduation ceremony held in Sherbrooke last September, 55 countries were represented. But we must also recognize that we are not well known in Taiwan yet. Since the year 2000, only one student from your country has come to Sherbrooke to study. My University would be very happy to contribute to the education of tomorrow's Taiwanese leaders just as it has contributed to the education of top leaders in Quebec and abroad. For example, the premier of Quebec is an alumnus of our University, as are the Minister of International Relations and many prominent members of our business and professional community including the CEO of the most important company, Bombardier, and our leading financial institutions, the Mouvement Desjardins and the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec. In fact, you will find people who have studied at Sherbrooke in many places around the World. Join them. We will be very happy to welcome you to Sherbrooke as a student or as a visiting professor.

Thank you for your attention.