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Giving up on the French language?

In March 2013, the French minister for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, presented a bill for a new Higher Education and Research law to the Council of Ministers, in order to loosen linguistic shackles of French universities and to increase the attractiveness of France for international students.

The new law, known as loi d'orientation E.S.R., aims at reforming legislation passed in June 2000, under which the language of instruction, examinations and concours, as well as for dissertations and theses, is French, except in clearly defined cases such as the teaching of foreign languages and cultures, or classes taught by visiting foreign academics. Schools specially set up for students of foreign nationality, as well as institutions providing international education, are also not subject to this requirement.

The E.S.R., which allows French universities to teach in foreign languages, contains a set of measures aiming for France to open up to Europe and internationally. Two of these measures are the development of student and researcher mobility through the promotion of courses with periods of study and work abroad, and the authorisation of foreign language classes in public and private institutions, on condition they are provided under an agreement with a foreign or international institution, or benefiting from European funding.

The E.S.R. has come in for the heaviest criticism, especially by the Académie Française (the constitutional guardian of the French language) and the Union Populaire Républicaine (UPR), a right-wing political party. Although many agree on the language barrier being a strong impediment to attracting international students, the fear of a marginalisation of the French language remains. Some courses risk being taught solely in English and thus penalise French-speaking students. Also, foreign students attending English classes in France might well return to their home country without having learnt the French language.

Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (in French)