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On 23 May 2013, the French National Assembly adopted article 2 of the Law on Higher Education and Scientific Research (known as loi E.S.R.) amidst a chorus of disapproval. This new article, which enables French higher education institutions to teach in languages other than French (which, as everybody knows, means English), has been at the centre of a heated debate for the past months (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, April 2013).
Albeit the enmity of the opposition, which includes over 40 deputies of the leading Socialist Party itself, the text merely regularizes an already existing practice. Indeed, the use of English in academia has become more and more widespread over the last twenty years, despite the Toubon Law adopted in 1994, an attempt to regulate the use of foreign languages in education, at the workplace or in public services. Thus, over 600 courses in languages other than French (in most cases English) are already provided throughout the country. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), 25% of all teaching and research staff have at one point given a lecture in English and 83% of the laboratory heads consider that English is the most common language in their area of expertise.
The main argument of the opposition to the new E.S.R law is that it threatens the French cultural heritage and further marginalizes the French language. To reach a consensus, an amendment to article 2 was voted unanimously, requiring all foreign students affected by the law to learn French, their level of French thus taken into account for graduation.
One should not forget that article 2 only modifies article L. 121-3 of the educational code that previously made French the exclusive language of instruction, examinations, concours and theses, except for the teaching of foreign languages and cultures, visiting professors and international schools, etc. The new law thus allows public and private institutions to provide courses in a foreign language as long as these are justified by educational needs and taught as part of an agreement with a foreign or international institution, or as part of a European programme and in order to facilitate the development of international and multilingual curricula and diplomas.
Molière's language might thus have some respite, yet.French National Assembly (in French) E.S.R. Law – Amended Draft (in French)