Campus Visit: Université Laval, Quebec City

Spring is a great time to visit Université Laval, North America`s oldest French-language post-secondary institution. A short drive or bus ride west from Vieux Québec – the city`s renowned historic neighbourhood – Laval is welcoming you with its dozens of modern buildings, large green spaces, botanical gardens, sports fields – and a multi-cultural student population. (In Quebec`s typically cold winters, students can walk between campus buildings through a complex network of underground pedestrian tunnels, over five km long).

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Françai...

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Français : Drapeau de l’Université Laval, Québec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students call Laval their university. With its 18 faculties and schools – ranging from dentistry to forestry to theology – U. Laval is an appealing and relatively accessible choice for many French-speaking persons from the Province of Quebec (the vast majority of them), the rest of Canada, and around the world.

Well-known for its Rouge-et-Or varsity sports, Laval`s football team (men) is particularly celebrated for having won the most Vanier Cups (the championship of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football): six times, a tie with U. of Western Ontario Mustangs. Laval has one of Canada`s largest sports complexes and students participate in various sporting and non-athletic competitions, such as Concrete Canoe, International Tractor and Force Avenir.

400+ academic programs (roughly half undergraduate and half graduate), hundreds of distance learning courses, and three education profiles (entrepreneurial, cooperative, and international) make U. Laval an institution catering to a wide range of student needs. This is one of its strongest features – and perhaps its Achilles’ heel as well.

In the latest (2012) Maclean`s ranking Laval takes the 12th spot in Canadian “medical and doctoral” universities (a category of post-secondary institutions offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, including medical schools). In the national reputational ranking Laval places 18th (this ranking combines all medical doctoral, comprehensive, and primarily undergraduate universities in Canada). In its category, Laval scores 8th on total research dollars (a plus repeatedly emphasized by university officials) and 10th on student awards.

Laval`s vision is “to become one of the best universities in the world.” Its model, however, to “[give] all members of its community the chance to grow, develop their potential, and establish themselves in an […] institutional setting” may prevent it from achieving that very worthy goal. Laval is one of Quebec`s better and larger post-secondary institutions – notable alumni include three Prime Ministers of Canada and seven provincial Premiers – but its all-encompassing community mandate is what seems to be holding it back.

To truly become a top Canadian and world university, Laval will need to revisit fundamental principles – to move away from a Quebec-centred mission and promote more forcefully its many strengths on the national and international post-secondary education market. It will also need to focus more strategically on a fewer number of academic specializations, closely coordinated with its research programs.

Until this transformation happens, Laval may not be one of the world`s leading universities – a Caltech, Harvard or Stanford – but it definitely continues to be an attractive choice for Québécois and international Francophone students. In its French-speaking niche, Laval offers rich educational options in a lovely (albeit somewhat cold) city. Tip: enjoy the sun and the warm weather while it lasts – you`ll notice, the locals follow this rule religiously.

Some Facts about Athletic Prospects at Canadian Universities

Over 10,000 university students from across Canada participate, each year, in 12 national sporting competitions: basketball, cross-country running, curling, field hockey (women’s), football (men’s), ice hockey, rugby union (women’s), soccer, swimming, indoor track & field, volleyball, and wrestling.

These competitions, resulting in National Championship titles, comprise up to 3,000 events every university year, during the Fall and Winter terms.

The organization responsible for these events is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), “the national governing body of university sport in Canada, comprising the majority of degree granting universities in the country.” Its name in French is Sport interuniversitaire canadien (SIC).

The best student athletes attend, every two years, World University Games and “compete with the best from around the globe in 12 sporting disciplines at the Summer Games and 7 sporting disciplines at the Winter Games.” Some of them earn spots in professional leagues such as the Canadian Football League (CFL), the [US] National Football League (NFL), the [Canada-US] National Hockey League (NHL), etc.

Canadian universities offer scholarships to student athletes that may cover the value of tuition and compulsory fees. In addition, students may receive non-athletic scholarships based on academic merit and/or special needs. They receive sport medical and paramedical support, and have access to therapy and counselling services. There are also provincial and national sources of financial support (e.g., the federal government’s Athlete Assistance Program, administered by Sport Canada), plus awards from private and not-for-profit organizations and municipal governments.

Some athletes considering a university scholarship apply to US institutions, where the main governing body for university sport is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Athletic programs are seen as a very significant part of the post-secondary education in the United States and US universities work closely with the NCAA to provide opportunities for students and enhance the schools’ overall reputation.

The CIS and Athletics Canada (the sport governing body for track and field) recently prepared an information guide for university-bound student athletes and their parents and coaches, indicating that “it is becoming increasingly evident that for many the ‘Canadian option’ is the best.” They list a number of arguments to support this position, by looking at factors such as location, financial support opportunities and students’ goals (athletic and academic).

The CIS and Athletics Canada point to several facts in their assessment: “athletes in Canada have 5 years of eligibility” (4 years in the US), “have greater control of performance objectives,” and have access to programs that “offer a good balance between athletic and academic challenges.” In addition, tuition in Canada is less expensive than in the United States (in many cases significantly less expensive!) and is tax deductible (some scholarships in the US are considered income).

From Thompson Rivers U. (WolfPacks) and U. of Alberta (Golden Bears/Pandas) in the West to Carleton U. (Ravens) and U. Laval (Rouge-et-Or) in the East to Dalhousie U. (Tigers) and Memorial U. (Sea-Hawks) in Atlantic Canada, varsity sports are an important part of the Canadian university experience – granted, not on the same scale and having the same level of visibility as in the United States.