Minister backtracks on English degree courses

A controversial plan by the French government to allow universities to teach degree courses in English appears to have been watered down with the Minister for Higher Education suggesting it will only apply to one percent of courses.

Minister backtracks on English degree courses
France's most famous university, the Sorbonne.

France’s Minister for Higher Education, Geneviève Fioraso, provoked anger among a group of writers, as well as the famous protectors of the French language the Académie Française earlier this year when she announced plans to permit university courses to be taught entirely in English.

Fioraso wants to change the famous Toubon law – which states that the French must be the language of all teaching – a move that would enable universities to attract more students from across the globe.

However on Friday Fioraso suggested that the controversial proposals had been watered down and that now only one percent of courses will be taught in English.

“This is not about making foreign language courses obligatory at universities, but allowing them to do so in a specific framework geared towards a targeted audience,” Fioraso said.

The minister also said it would remain obligatory for foreign students to take French courses and their grades would count towards their final diploma score.

Although some private universities and the elite Grandes Écoles already offer courses in English, officially they are breaking the law by doing so.

The government wants to bring the level of foreign students from 12 percent to 15 percent at French institutions, whose reputation, according to a recent report, has suffered on a global scale. They believe courses in English hold the key.

Many academics, including Jean-Loup Salzmann, president of the Conference of University Presidents are in favour. "English has become the international Language no matter what the pessimists think," he said.

However many disagree with the minister's plans.

“This one percent figure was just pulled out of a hat to try and settle the controversy and it once again shows how unprepared the government is,” a student told French daily Le Figaro.

French author Frederic Werst is staunchly against Fioraso’s plan, telling the Local recently that it was deluded.

The proposals are set to be discussed in the French parliament later this month.

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Police probe opened after poster campaign against ‘Islamophobic’ lecturers at French university

The French government condemned on Monday a student protest campaign targeting two university professors accused of Islamophobia, saying it could put the lecturers in danger.

Police probe opened after poster campaign against 'Islamophobic' lecturers at French university
Illustration photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Student groups plastered posters last week on the walls of a leading political science faculty in Grenoble that likened the professors to “fascists” and named them both in a campaign backed by the UNEF student union.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa said the posters and social media comments recalled the online harassment of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty last October, who was beheaded in public after being denounced online for offending Muslims.

“These are really odious acts after what happened with the decapitation of Samuel Paty who was smeared in the same way on social networks,” she said on the BFM news channel. “We can’t put up with this type of thing.”

“When something is viewed as racist or discriminatory, there’s a hierarchy where you can report these types of issues, which will speak to the professor and take action if anything is proven,” Schiappa said.

Sciences Po university, which runs the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Grenoble in eastern France, also condemned the campaign on Monday and has filed a criminal complaint.

An investigation has been opened into slander and property damage after the posters saying “Fascists in our lecture halls. Islamophobia kills” were found on the walls of the faculty.

One of the professors is in charge of a course called “Islam and Muslims in contemporary France” while the other is a lecturer in German who has taught at the faculty for 25 years.