The French newspaper Le Figaro reported this week that many French academics [but by no means all] and other champions of the French language are feeling threatened by a new measure, included in the Higher Education and Research [HSR] statute, that will open the way for universities to teach entire programmes through English. The HSR is due to come into force later this year.
Under legislation passed in 2000 to protect the French language, it is currently compulsory to teach university courses in French except in clearly defined cases – foreign language studies, or if the education is given by a visiting foreign academic. Examinations and thesis presentations must be in French. Some institutions manage to circumvent the rules, but they are technically breaking the law. Geneviève Fioraso, minister for higher education and research, now intends to loosen universities’ linguistic shackles.
In the hope of increasing France’s share of international students, the HSR law will allow universities to teach in in English – when courses are part of an agreement with a foreign or international institution, or part of a European programme. Fioraso said that opposition to the reform was about “a resistance to change. To attract young Indians we must offer education in English. For Koreans to get to Proust, we must go via English."
Above: Sciences Po: one of the only French Universities to currently offer an entire undergraduate programme though English
The Académie Française, constitutional guardian of the French language, issued a declaration against the “attack on the status of the French language in universities”. It wished to “draw attention to the dangers of a measure which is presented as a technical application, while in reality it promotes marginalisation of our language”.
In an opinion piece, Le Figaro claimed the new measure “was insulting to French-speaking countries and Francophiles, and especially the numerous francophone students who wished to study in France but could not because of its restrictive visa policy. Le Fiagaro also claimed it was “anti-republican because it attacked the constitutional principle that French was the language of the republic, and it was anti-democratic because it would inevitably lead to closure of certain courses in French, thus penalising French and other French-speaking students”