Bill 96: New category of CEGEP students will have to take the French exit exam

A last-minute addition to Bill 96, which would require international students in some CEGEP continuing education programs to take a French exit exam, is likely to alienate some and exacerbate the province’s labor shortage, warn some college deans .

The Attestation d’études collégiales (AEC) programs in question are short technical training programs that thousands of adult students take annually. Most are international students, and the programs are designed to get them directly into the job market.

The new requirement took TAV College director Eli Moroz by surprise. That created “an enormous amount of frustration… the frustration is not knowing,” he said.

“We don’t know what to say to students. In fact, I’m really scared to admit students now for the fall semester. You know, we don’t want students to register for the program and then go through two years of study and then face a situation where we cannot give them the certificate.”

TAV College can admit the largest number of AEC students among English CEGEPS (541), in line with new admission limits set by the government.

The new rule also creates more inconvenience for Cegeps, already involved with other new obligations.

This includes organizing new French courses and a French Exit Exam for students who are not qualified in English and who are in programs leading to a traditional Diploma of University Studies (DEC).

The AEC specification published in the Gazette Officielle du Québec of the national assembly on May 3 stipulates that students who complete training in English programs must prove that they have reached “Level 7 in Expression and Listening” and “Level 4 in Expression and Listening written.”

It applies to students who start the program on or after July 1, when the newly amended language bill, known as Bill 96, takes effect.

To prove their proficiency, students will have to take a standardized test. Only if they are approved will they receive the AEC certificate.

A memorandum obtained by CTV, prepared for teachers at a Montreal CEGEP, defined Level 7 as intermediate and Level 4 as “the most advanced of the beginner levels”.

“This is going to be an additional burden on the student. It could require several hundred hours of French courses in addition to their AEC requirements in a given field,” said Vanier general manager John McMahon, where the admission limit for AEC students is 300.

McMahon said there needs to be more clarity about where students should take extra French courses and who will be responsible for offering the test.

“We are currently planning to offer these language courses as part of the program,” he said.

He said it will also likely represent an additional expense for students who will have to enroll in extra language courses to ensure they are exactly at the required level to pass the exam.

“And that’s where it becomes challenging. An international student has options in Canada. They can come here to Montreal, or they can study in Ontario or Alberta, British Columbia, without the language requirements,” McMahon said.

He said that if Montreal loses a competitive advantage over other cities, it will have a ripple effect.

“If language law requirements deter international students from entering major programs where there is a shortage of manpower, that will have an impact,” McMahon said.

CTV News asked French language and higher education ministries about the last-minute additions to the legislation and the potential effect on AEC and CEGEPS students.

A spokesperson for the French language ministry said it would respond to our questions early next week.


Continuing education programs taught in both French and English provide graduates with an (AEC) and generally take 6-18 months to complete.

There are dozens of programs, including early childhood development, farm business management, transition to nursing, accounting services, and information technology.

TAV College has many students in the Special Care Counseling program, computer programming and Internet marketing programs, all of which have excellent employment rates, Moroz said.

“For example, in our Internet marketing program, there’s pretty much a 100 percent employment rate. They’re getting jobs right away, and there’s a huge, huge demand and shortage of labor in those areas as well,” he said.

Institutions are being constrained, however, between new French exams and admission limits, and growth potential is being squashed, he added.

“We accept many hundreds more students, but we close, we really close admission to these programs. I can’t say precisely (how many students) because we’re not interested in processing applications when we know we can’t admit them,” Moroz said.


An early childhood teacher for AEC English programs at several Montreal-area CEGEPs is also concerned about the sudden changes. His classes are really full of international students, not locals.

“I would say about 90 percent of my students are from India or Iran,” said the teacher, whose name CTV declined to reveal because it fears her job security could be affected by speaking out.

She agreed that the new French exit exam will deter interested international students because it would put a lot more “stress” on their shoulders.

It’s a shame, she said, because Quebec needs a lot more daycare workers, something she hears when she visits daycare centers two to three times a week.

“I go to French kindergartens and English kindergartens because I am also doing internships in French. From what I see in all kindergartens … there is a lack of educators. Nobody has enough staff. They are constantly asking me – I need people, do you have somebody?”

Neither she nor McMahon is downplaying the need for all students who live and work in Quebec to be proficient in French. But McMahon is frustrated by the government’s last-minute addition of a formal test and the lack of information about how it will all work.

“We state that we absolutely support the preservation and promotion of French for our students. But the timing, the timing to implement was crucial given the realities we face.”

“We have to implement these requirements in August. It’s already May. We are recruiting students. Now we recruit students who were unaware of these details”, explained McMahon.

He also fears that once prospective international students hear about requirements from recruiters, it will delay enrollment for years to come.

MacMahon said he would at least have appreciated a gradual rollout to give them and international students time to adjust.

“English colleges have a very important role and [helped] support Quebec’s economy for the last 50 years or more. But if we’re consistently hammered with regulations that are unfair in many ways, it becomes difficult for us to support those other goals in the job market,” McMahon said.

At College Marie-Victorin, a French CEGEP with an English satellite campus, spokesperson Julie Martin confirmed that 100% of the now government-limited number of AEC students studying in English there (232) are immigrants.

“Only new students (as of July 1st) will have to pass the test. If necessary, we will ensure they have all the support and resources they need to help them with this new procedure,” Robert said in an email.

There is still time for CEGEPs or interested parties to submit their comments on the draft regulation. The deadline is mid-June.

CEGEPS Federation spokeswoman Judith Laurier told CTV on May 17 that they “are not finished drafting their position”.

Bill 96: New category of CEGEP students will have to take the French exit exam

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