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>>]