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A new report released by France Stratégie – a think tank sponsored by the office of the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls – sheds light on France’s engagement in transnational education (TNE) and the potential reasons behind the country’s difficulties to keep pace with international competitors. The report, titled “L'enseignement supérieur français par-delà les frontières : l'urgence d'une stratégie” (in English: “French transnational higher education: the urgent need for a strategy”), provides comparative data for France vis-à-vis the TNE frontrunners (the US, UK and Australia), provides a number of recommendations for national-level action and puts forward four possible strategies for French higher education institutions. The analysis covers all forms of TNE provision, from international branch campuses, joint-ventures, franchises, to courses delivered by French institutions in collaboration with local partners and finally, distance learning.
The authors qualify the French TNE provision as a “niche offer”, as it tends to focus on the postgraduate level and consist of high-quality programmes in specialized fields in which France has an international reputation, but with rather low enrolments (200 students on average). This is the exact opposite of UK’s or Australia’s offshore education, which focuses on undergraduate students and on enrolling bigger cohorts. It is thus no surprise that France has, according to the report, only about 31 151 students in face-to-face TNE, whereas the UK counts as many as 95 052 and Australia 85 873. The discrepancies are biggest in online education, where the enrolments for the three countries are 5 668, 109 379, and 25 531 students respectively. Further on, 69% of French TNE programmes are fully or partly-taught in French, while 90% of German TNE is delivered in English. French institutions also seem to have a more collaborative approach to TNE, two thirds of the programmes involving local partners.
The authors observe that although French higher education institutions engage in TNE, they have not committed to this form of education in the same manner as American, British or Australian institutions have, and they assess that this is mainly due to a lack of strategy and vision, that goes beyond “opportunistic” institutional behavior.
Last but not least, the authors propose three priority areas for state action as well as four strategic scenarios for higher education institutions, namely: