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Passage of bill to make NOSM, Uni. of Hearst independent schools ‘great news’, Romano says

Lakehead University president has ‘grave concerns’ about how the decision was made but said the school must ‘turn its attention to the future’
20200124-Sault MPP Ross Romano-DT
Sault MPP Ross Romano, Jan. 24, 2020. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Ontario marked the passing of Bill 276 on June 3, legislation that includes provisions to make the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the Université de Hearst.

The province said back in April, in the wake of Laurentian University’s insolvency, that it intended to introduce legislation to make the two schools independent from their affiliation with Sudbury’s university, giving them the power to grant their own degrees.

Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano said at the time it was an important step in the maturation of the two schools.

"They are ready to take the next step in their development and maturity as institutions," Romano said. "This new independence will ensure that each institution has the autonomy to grow in ways that more effectively support the access to quality education for students and communities in the region.”

The passage of Bill 276, the Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act, 2021, is “great news” Romano said in a statement Thursday.

“The passage of Bill 276 is great news for the future of post-secondary education in Northern Ontario. It means that both the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and the Universite d’Hearst (Hearst) are one step closer to being independent degree granting institutions,” the statement reads.

“It means with new legislative authority, the institutions will be able to explore new opportunities to offer more degrees and programs subject to review by the Post-secondary Education Quality Assessment Board, explore new partnerships across Northern Ontario, and ultimately improve and expand the education that they provide today.”

The legislation, Romano also said, means Université de Hearst will become Ontario’s second independent Francophone university, while NOSM will become Canada’s first standalone medical school.

NOSM is affiliated with both Laurentian University and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Lakehead has said the costs of severing NOSM from its affiliated universities isn’t a good use of taxpayer dollars.

In a statement June 3, Lakehead president Dr. Moira McPherson said she has “grave concerns” about how the decision was made and the lack of consultation involved. 

“Though we continue to have grave concerns about the means by which this decision was made – without consultation with our University, Senate, faculty and staff, nor with health-care providers, Indigenous communities, and regional business leaders – we know we must now turn our attention to the future,” McPherson stated.

She also noted Lakehead’s efforts to maintain the partnership with NOSM.

“Since the introduction of this legislation, Lakehead and many community partners have sought to build awareness of how this decision will impact program accreditation, costs to taxpayers and students, and existing research, university and community partnerships,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we have also put forward innovative solutions that would have maintained and strengthened access to high-quality education and research in Northern Ontario through a continued partnership between Lakehead and NOSM.”

With the passage of the legislation, Lakehead will continue to be involved in the process, but will work to protect itself and its learning environment going forward, McPherson said.

“Lakehead is committed to engaging in productive and collaborative consultations, however we will continue to uphold a position that does not undermine our university, nor the thriving academic environment we have worked so hard to grow.”

In a statement on June 4, Mayor Brian Bigger congratulated NOSM.

“On behalf of the City of Greater Sudbury, I want to congratulate the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) on the historic news that it is one step closer to becoming Canada’s first stand-alone medical school,” Bigger’s statement reads. “The city has long been a proud supporter of NOSM and the incredible work it does to address the health needs and contribute to the economic vitality of our region. We look forward to continuing collaboration in the months and years to come.”