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France to cut red tape to entice foreign students

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France to cut red tape to entice foreign students
Students at the l'Ecole Supérieure de Commerce (ESC) in Bordeaux. File photo: Patrick Bernard/AFP
11:54 CEST+02:00
The French government is to introduce a raft of measures aimed at making life easier for foreign students who want to study in France. The move is aimed at keeping pace with countries like the US in efforts to attract the world's best scholars.

The French government seems to have cottoned on to the notion that France's notorious bureaucracy can be a hurdle for foreign nationals coming to the country.

After the minister Fleur Pellerin announced she would be cutting red tape for foreign businesses last month the Minister for Higher Education vowed similar measures this week for international students.

On a visit to the Cité International Universitaire de Paris this week Genèvieve Fioraso accepted that France must do more to entice the world’s best students and to keep up with the rest of the world.

“President Obama has launched an ambitious policy to attract scientists and the main English-speaking countries are aggressively leading the way when it comes to foreign exchange programmes. France cannot sit back and ignore these changes,” Fioraso said.

A report released earlier this year suggested the reputation of France's universities around the globe had dipped in recent years.

Last year, there were nearly 290,000 foreign students in France, which represented 12.3% of the overall student population. But France’s position in the global league table for foreign students is “fragile” according to Fioraso, after it dropped from fourth to fifth.

“To stand out in tomorrow’s world France must attract the best students, the best researchers and the best scientists, which will help our competitiveness,” said Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who accompanied Fioraso on her visit.

The ministers believe France’s red tape is a major stumbling block for foreign student and announced proposed changes to the student visas, so students will be given the right to stay for the duration of their course rather than just one year at a time.

In 2012, around 60,000 student visas (titres de sejour) were handed out, with most students having to renew them at the end of the year, which meant they were forced to wait for hours at the prefecture in “sometimes in humane conditions” Valls said.

Fioraso also proposed the opening of branches of prefectures close to university campuses where international students can access information on housing and health.

One of the more controversial steps France will take to attract foreign students is to allow for entire courses to be taught in English. This has angered the language police at the Academie Francaise as well as certain literary figures.

The government also wants to make it easier for students to get a job in France once they have completed their courses.

“We need to clarify the rules of the law to allow the best foreign students to access jobs in a more simple way," Valls said.

One advantage Fioraso believes French universities have over those in Asia or the United States is the relatively modest cost of course fees in France.

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