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.

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