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Olivier Chiche Portiche, Campus France

There is a false debate about English medium teaching in France, because actually we already offer more than 850 programmes taught in English. What is important is that the government has come out and said it supports it.
July 26 2013
4 Min Read

France promotes its higher education overseas through the government agency Campus France. We talk to Director of Promotion, Olivier Chiche Portiche, about new reforms to attract international students, English medium teaching and France’s transnational ambitions.

The PIE: What does Campus France offer as an organisation?

OCP: We are a government agency for promotion of French higher education abroad, so we market French universities and Grand Écoles abroad to attract more international students at the masters and PhD level. We work with a network of 180 local offices all over the world which help us provide students with information. We are more or less equivalent to DAAD in Germany or the British Council, although we are not in charge of teaching French.

“We work with a network of 230 French universities, Grand Écoles, specialised schools and some schools of French”

We work with a network of 230 French universities, Grand Écoles, specialised schools and some schools of French. So we are very representative of the French HE offer.

The PIE: France is fourth or fifth biggest study destination in the world, but minister for higher education Geneviève Fioraso says it risks being left behind. Does she have a point?

OCP: It’s always very important that we have to be cautious and very alert on our position. But our biggest concern is not whether we are ahead of Germany or not. UNESCO says we are the biggest non-anglophone study destination but it is important to keep our marketing efforts up, because we started quite late as a country. I guess we had a reputation for offering high quality education but we felt we didn’t feel the need to take it to other countries.

But 12 years ago our two ministers of higher education and foreign affairs decided to create the Campus France brand name to help change this, to help us promote ourselves more actively. It has also helped us build awareness of how to welcome international students properly – to provide the right housing and a smooth visa process for example.

The PIE: One of Fioraso’s reforms has been to ease student visa restrictions. Why was that important?

OCP: Foreign students no longer have to renew their visas every year like they used to. Instead they last for the duration of a course—two years for master’s, three years bachelors and four years PhDs. After graduation they can also stay for one year to look for work which is up from six months.

“These new measures show that international students are welcome and that France wants them”

This is particularly important because it overturns the Circulaire May 31 directive of the last government, which made it harder for students to remain in the country and was really bad publicity for France. These new measures show that international students are welcome and that France wants them. It’s a completely different state of mind.

The PIE: She’s also been pushing for more English medium education in France, but there’s a lot of political opposition. Will she get her way?

OCP: I think it’s a false debate because actually France already offers more than 850 programmes taught wholly or partially in English, and its Campus France’s job to publicise these courses on our website. What is important is that a minister supports it frankly. There is a law that is meant to prevent universities teaching in English, although it’s not taken that seriously given how many people go around it. The number of English medium programmes has increased a lot in the last five years. [More>>]


So it’s not really a problem, and international students who come to France usually end up learning to speak French whether they study in English or not. So I think it’s important that Fioraso has come out and said she wants to remove the law, just so schools know that there is absolutely no problem in offering courses taught in English. And I think more will choose to do so—not so much at the Grand Écoles but in universities, particular in science subjects where there is a need for us to attract more students.

The PIE: And France has a real advantage with Francophone Africa, too.

OCP: Yes. I think Francophone Africa accounts for 50% of our students in higher education, with Morocco our top market followed by China.

The PIE: Is France getting involved in offshore education like the UK and US?

OCP: No, we’re quite late on this. Some business schools like SKEMA, HEC, ESSEC, and other top ranking French institutions, or engineering schools like Central in Shanghai are active and have campuses abroad. But they are small units. There is also the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi, our most famous branch campus, but this is the only major international branch campus we have.

“Francophone Africa accounts for 50% of our students in higher education”

But in general we’re behind, and Campus France is working with its university members to help them access information and advice on branching out overseas. There is growing interest in it and the French regions are working together to promote campus development in markets like Brazil.

The PIE: What’s your advice to French universities that want to internationalise further?

OCP: Well, we’re a good example, as our mission is to promote French HE and help universities to get more exchange and academic cooperation agreements signed with academic partners. That’s why we attend all these institutional fairs like NAFSA or APAI in Asia. We do many B2B meetings and student fairs and organise bilateral meetings between our government and foreign governments concerning education.

The PIE: And what sort of things do you do in-market to attract students?

OCP: We have 50 events a year around the world, most of them student fairs, but we also have offices in-country that work with local universities doing conferences and open days on the French higher education system. We try to be visible inside universities, too.

“We’re behind in TNE, but Campus France is working with its members to help them access information and advice”

The PIE: Do you support the use of agents?

OCP: We are very flexible about agents. In India for instance, our office in New Delhi offered training to local agents to familiarise them with French HE so they market our universities accurately. So in a country where the agent system is well organised and associations exist to maintain standards, as you see with BELTA in Brazil, then it’s easier for us to work with agents. In Turkey we’re dealing with Turkish agents.

But unlike the British Council we are not developing specific agent training certificates. Maybe we should consider these things, but it’s not our position at the moment. In France there is still some scepticism about private operators profiting from education so we need to come to an arrangement that makes everybody happy.

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