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French higher education exports well

A great deal has been said about the establishment of the University of Paris IV on the campus in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates; but there are many examples of French universities and graduate schools exporting their skills. These cooperative projects combine the principles of openness and solidarity, supported by France in the international arena, and the promotion of French higher education abroad.

Law, political sciences, economics and management, engineering sciences, etc.: France has numerous fields of excellence and French-style higher education is proving a real success abroad. An ‘Ecole Centrale’ has recently opened in China, within the Behang University in Beijing, modelled on the French ‘Ecoles Centrales’, renowned particularly for the quality of their scientific and technical teaching. On this occasion, the French ‘Grandes Ecoles Centrales’ worked together to set up a complete training curriculum for engineers, including advanced training for competitive entrance exams. In Shanghai, Paritech, a group of engineering schools, including the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, has founded an establishment within Tongji University. In Algeria, a consortium of business schools led by the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry is involved in setting up a graduate business school in Algiers.

These projects and many others are exemplary in every respect. They are a response to the requests of a great many partner countries. The system of advanced training for admission to the ‘grandes écoles’, a feature of the French system, is particularly highly sought after. Offering complete curricula, cooperative schemes of this nature offer examples of the “good practice” so valued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We support university courses abroad backed by research, generating scientific cooperation, corresponding to essential occupations and favouring links with local businesses”, says Roger Manière, deputy director of Academic Cooperation and Professional Education. His assistant, Denis Seigneur, adds, “We favour establishments that work in networks, such as the fourteen running the French courses at Galatasaray University in Istanbul”.

In the context implementing these partnerships, the issuing of dual or joint diplomas is preferred, as at the already prestigious French university of Egypt or at the Franco-Romanian law school. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, are currently drawing up a Charter for higher education abroad. This document will put the commitment of the different partners on a contractual footing, combined with precise specifications. “It is a form of quality assurance”, stresses Denis Seigneur. There is no question of education abroad, a showcase for French excellence, being done on the cheap!

The approach taken is that of coordinating French university cooperation operations abroad, which are certainly not new, and developing new and innovative schemes. There is no shortage of projects: an engineering school in Chile, a Franco-Malaysian university centre in Kuala Lumpur, and many others. For a few years now, university cooperation attachés, seconded to French diplomatic representations from the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, have had the task of inspiring and supporting new partnerships and encouraging dialogue with French establishments of higher education. Besides this, primarily in Africa, technical assistants are helping with the structural reforms to higher education undertaken by governments wishing to adapt their systems and the level of courses to international standards. Educational engineering is one of France’s fields of excellence. French experts provide assistance on both the content and organisation of students’ lives in many areas: catering, accommodation, social and cultural activities and so on.

It is worth remembering, moreover, that the setting up of higher education curricula abroad is supported in a great many countries by a network of French primary and secondary educational establishments for whichthey of course provide continuity. “France is the only country to have such a broad and highly reputed system”, stresses Roger Manière. Foreign students who have had a French education at home have the possibility of continuing their studies in France, benefiting, where necessary, from advantageous conditions for the award of bursaries for final honours and postgraduate studies. One agency for international academic and scientific mobility, CampusFrance, has just been launched under the dual supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, in close collaboration with the conferences of the universities and ‘grandes écoles’.

All these activities taking place in the context of France’s policy of international cooperation of course illustrate a considerable investment in solidarity. But they also help to develop the French-speaking world and to make France more attractive. In this respect, academic partnerships are a major asset. According to Denis Seigneur, “the grandes écoles and universities are becoming important factors in France’s influence abroad. This type of cooperation is a powerful lever of French cultural and economic policy”.

Written by Sylvie Thomas-Barbe
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