CMM: The CIEP is recognised both in France and abroad for its skills with regard to expert evaluation, training, assessment, and management of international projects. CIEP is a public operator under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research. It is, in addition, the main operating partner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development.
The PIE: So it is a government department?
CMM: Yes. Today in France we have nearly 100 language centres accredited by the French government so if you have to recommend a language centre to learn French in France, you should recommend those schools.
We have different activities besides the French accreditation; CIEP provides the administrative and educational management for the national French test and diploma as a foreign language and provides as well a new placement test which is called Ev@lang.
The PIE: Did CIEP design the tests?
CMM: Yes, we make all the design of the tests (e.g from test development to the delivery of the certificate) and we help the schools who want their students to take it and we accredit the schools who want to become an exam centre.
The PIE: Can you tell me more about the quality accreditation (Qualité FLE) for French language schools and how many schools are accredited?
CMM: It is attributed by an inter-ministry commission, for a maximum of four years, after an audit of three days. It is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended to help the schools to promote their activities. A hundred of the schools [are accredited] and respect a certain number of quality criterias.
The PIE: How much of the market by the accreditation? 80%, do you think?
CMM: 70 % I think, maybe some small schools do not have it because you have to teach a minimum of 2,400 hours of French per year, so it is not all the schools who have it, but if you are too small you can ask for special dispensation.
The PIE: How much of CIEP’s remit is to promote the brand abroad, do you do much marketing and promotion?
CMM: Yes, we are participating in some international events and some national events, we work with Campus France which is very active and organises many events in France and abroad. We will also have a new website for Label Qualité francais langue etrangere (Qualité FLE) in May.
The PIE: Can you summarise why it was developed?
CMM: The French as a Foreign Language Quality label was set up by decree in 2007 to identify, recognise, and promote centres of French as a foreign language of which the language offer and the services present guarantees of quality.
It is a matter of setting up a quality-assurance process to give the public confidence, and to help diplomatic posts and the French network of institutes and the Alliance Française to prescribe a reliable offer of French language courses based on demand, the needs of the public, and students’ profiles.
“We are focusing on a better promotion of the accreditation and the accredited centres”
Another important thing to know about the CIEP is that we are managing many mobility programmes, especially the language assistant programmes and the qualifications recognition. The ENIC-NARIC France is the French information centre for the academic and professional recognition of qualifications. It issues comparability statements for foreign qualifications.
The PIE: What can you tell me about the French language learning market in general?
CMM: The sector has suffered from the terrorist attacks, added to the economic crisis, but it is getting better. We are focusing on a better promotion of the accreditation and the accredited centres.
The PIE: In a seminar recently it was suggested that French was in the top four languages to study that will grow the most. Are you hopeful there will be growth in the market?
CMM: Yes, l’OFI estimates the number of French speakers today at 274 million. The estimation for 2050 is 700 million (around 8% of the world population).
The PIE: Do you think that most of students who come to study French want to stay and progress to university or are a lot of them tourists?
CMM: A lot of them are students of higher education. We made a study last year and we realised that more than 60% of students studying French in those accredited schools [will pursue] higher education.
“A Campus France app, Immersion France, has also recently been created”
The PIE: Interesting. I know France is doing a lot more to help the higher education sector work with international students. We wrote a story about Guichets Uniques [service centres for international students].
CMM: Today the French government has signed a convention with 34-35 countries to allow higher education students to get their visa. It doesn’t guarantee you get it, but Campus France guides the students. In each country, Campus France has its own office for the Procedure CEF, it is a visa guidance, created in 2003. It started with China, and has had an impact because it helps the universities a lot.
Students who want to study French in an accredited school can ask for their visa through this procedure since November 2015.
The PIE: Are any other tactics being developed for the French as a foreign language (FLE) sector in particular?
CMM: Since our change of government, our ministry of tourism is linked with the ministry of foreign affairs. Last year a seminar was organised on “linguistic tourism” to help schools promote their products and reach a wider audience.
And the Campus France app, Immersion France, has also recently been created in this regard.
The PIE: How many international students are there in France?
CMM: In total every year, around 300,000 students come to France in one of the universities (including all types of higher education schools). We are the 3rd country after the USA and UK and right before Germany. And around 132,000 students are coming to France to study French in one of the schools.