A group of regionally elected officials is calling for the country to change the rules on how it collects data on ethnic minorities.

"/> A group of regionally elected officials is calling for the country to change the rules on how it collects data on ethnic minorities.

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France ‘could learn from US’ on ethnic minorities

A group of regionally elected officials is calling for the country to change the rules on how it collects data on ethnic minorities.

The ten representatives are all members of Aneld (Association nationale des élus locaux de la diversité), an organisation that represents diversity in local government. 

The group recently returned from a fact-finding visit to Washington D.C. where they saw first-hand how the US collects data that includes information on ethnic diversity.

France has a long tradition of banning the collection and publication of government statistics that refer to racial or ethnic origin. Based on its egalitarian principles, the country prefers to treat all citizens the same. However, many are now calling for a change of approach as a step towards combating discrimination.

Kamel Hamza, a councillor with the UMP in La Courneuve, north of Paris, praised the American approach, saying it helped “spot unfairness and correct it far more quickly, which makes for a more cohesive society.”

He added that France currently has a hypocritical approach to the issue. “Ethnic statistics are already being put together, but always with a negative spin. We can also use them for positive ends and to remove injustices.”

François Héran, who headed a 2009 committee set up by President Nicolas Sarkozy into the issue, agreed.

“Statistics on ethnicity help us fight discrimination,” he told Le Figaro newspaper. “How can we fight discrimination if we have no data on the subject? If we want to know whether ethnicity plays a role in access to employment, housing and social mobility we need to start with the facts.”

In a sign that the debate is likely to be as explosive as in the past, opponents are lining up against the proposal. Patrick Gaubert, president of the Haut Conseil à l’Intégration, which advises the government on integration issues, issued a strong rebuke.

A statement said he is “astonished to see this subject back in the news. Contrary to the values of the French Republic, this question modelled on the American approach cannot be applied to France.”

The statement added “there is no need to fight discrimination by counting the French and foreigners residing in France by their attachment to certain groups.”

Estimates of the ethnic minority population in France vary greatly, ranging from 4.5 million to 13 million, out of a total population of 62 million.

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Reputation of French universities tumbles

A league table of the world’s most prestigious universities published on Wednesday should "sound alarm bells" in France with the latest rankings showing the country now only has two institutions in the world's top 100.

Reputation of French universities tumbles
Foreign students may love French universities but academics do not think so highly of them, it seems. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Foreign students flock to French universities every year but it appears its universities do not have such a great reputation around the globe among academics.

The publication of the Times Higher Education 2014 World Reputation Rankings for universities revealed that France only had two in the top 100 after two others, one of which was the École Polytechnique, dropped off the rankings.

Worryingly neither of the French institutions in the top 100 were inside the first 50 places.

At the other end of the scale the 2014 rankings have again highlighted an elite group of six US and UK “super-brands” that stand head and shoulders above the rest: Harvard University in first place, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in second, Stanford University third, the University of Cambridge fourth, the University of Oxford fifth and the University of California, Berkeley sixth.

One of the ranking's experts from the Times Higher Education Magazine told The Local on Wednesday the league table should spark serious concern among higher education chiefs in the country.

"It's worrying. For a country with a great reputation in so many sectors this should sound alarm bells," said Chris Parr from Times Higher Education.

The two French institutions to fall out of the top 100 were Université Paris-Sud and the prestigious École Polytechnique, leaving the country with just two representatives.

Its highest-placed institution, Université Paris-Sorbonne, holds its position in the 71-80 band, while Université Pierre et Marie Curie slips into the 91-100 group.

Phil Baty editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings suggests the recent highly publicized reforms to France's Higher Education system, including the controversial plan to allow more courses in English, may have harmed universities' reputations in the short term.

“It would be reasonable to speculate that the complexity of the French research system and the continuing reforms to its academy are confusing the global academic community. When strong university brand names are ever more important in attracting top talent, collaborations and investment, this is a concern. Limited international visibility and prestige have real-world impacts,” said Baty.

The reputation rankings are based on a global invitation-only opinion poll carried out by Ipsos MediaCT for Times Higher Education’s rankings data supplier, Thomson Reuters.

The 2014 results are based on 10,536 responses from senior published academics.

France's fortunes contrasted dramatically with those of Germany.

In representative terms, the US and the UK are followed by Germany, which gains a top 100 entrant, RWTH Aachen University (joining the 91-100 group), giving it six institutions in the rankings. 

Although its number one institution, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, slips from 44th to joint 46th, all other German institutions hold steady or rise.

It has also been a bad year for Sweden, reputation-wise: it now has just one top 100 institution, the Karolinska Institute, compared with three last year. While Karolinska rises from the 61-70 band to 51-60, Uppsala and Lund universities exit the tables.