'Lack of English' holding back French universities

Ben McPartland
Ben McPartland - [email protected]
'Lack of English' holding back French universities
French universities have fallen in the global rankings once again. Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot

Only two French universities made it into the top 100 of a new global ranking. A problem with branding and a lack of research in English explains the poor scores, says the man behind the annual league table.


A new global rankings for the world’s universities was published this week, but French institutions are nowhere near the top of the pile and more worryingly they continue to slide down the scale.

In fact only two universities in France made it into the top 100 of this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Although there were seven in the top 200, many of the French institutions including the École Normale Superieure, in Paris and the Pierre and Marie Curie University slipped down the rankings. (SEE TABLE)

Phil Baty, the editor of the annual league table believes France’s institutions still have a problem with branding and have failed to embrace English in the same way that many other countries' universities have done.

“It has been another seriously disappointing year for France in the global rankings, as almost all French universities in the top 400 have fallen down the list,” he said.

“It seems France has a problem with its branding – it has some of the best known university names in the world, but its higher education system and structure is not very well understood around the world.

“Language is also an issue. More and more universities, in Europe and Asia in particular, are increasingly publishing research in English, to ensure the widest possible dissemination and impact, but France is behind here,” Baty adds.

Last year the French government passed a reform bill for higher education, one of the most controversial aspects of which was a relaxation of the rules to allow more courses to be taught in English in a bid to attract more international students.

Baty told The Local that these reforms may help French universities but other problems still remain.

“There’s a general lack of knowledge around the world of the French system, a lack of profile and reputation.

“It’s a fairly complex system and it’s seen as a branch of the civil service," he said.

Baty did however add that there were some positive signs in France that “the government seems to be committed to investing”.

The top of the rankings were, perhaps as expected, dominated by American institutions, with the California Institute of Technology topping the league table, with Harvard in second place.

The US took seven of the top ten places and 15 of the top 20.

The UK’s University of Oxford took third place in the rankings.

In contrast to France, Germany had a strong year, gaining two additional top 200 universities to take its total to 12, putting it third behind the US and UK.

Switzerland also continued to punch above its weight with seven top-200 universities and the number-one ranked university outside of the US and UK, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, which moved up one place to 13th.

Italy, meanwhile, only had one institution in the top 200, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (SNS), which was ranked 63rd.


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