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A New Higher Education And Research Reform In France

In France, the Minister of Higher Education and Research, Mrs. Geneviève Fioraso, has proposed a bill that seeks to improve both higher education and research strategies. The main provisions of the law are based on the proposals that followed a consultation of over 20 000 higher education and research key figures in France. The purpose of this proposed law is both to increase the number of students who successfully graduate (50% by 2020) and to adopt a comprehensive strategy for research, linked to the socio-economic arena.

One of the provisions that have raised the most discussion is the possibility for universities to offer classes taught in foreign languages to international students. Up until now, policy has mandated that all classes at all levels be taught in French with the exception of foreign language classes (Toubon Law from 1994). In reality, a certain number of classes taught in foreign languages had been created since and were offered on French campuses. Now this major change aims to increase the appeal of French universities to international students, among which English-speaking students. International students at French universities will however still be required to take French language classes and their level of French will be taken into account before they graduate.

The new law also suggests the de-compartmentalization of academic disciplines during the first year at universities. This provision aims at leaving students more time to find a major that is suited to them. Up until now, French students had to declare their majors when applying to universities. This new system would be more similar to that of American universities, in which students are not required to declare their majors until their second years of college, and are encouraged (and usually required) to take classes in various disciplines during their first year.

Furthermore, the new law encourages universities to simplify and clarify the degrees’ lay-out and to make it easier for students to choose their major and minors. This simplification should also help attract more international students.  

The new law additionally introduces digital technology as a main educational tool and encourages universities to offer online classes additionally to traditional face to face classes. In addition to the provisions of this law, a national initiative for online learning will soon be launched by the Minister of Higher Education and Research.

The law was officially passed on July 9th after both the French Senate and the National Assembly (comparable to the House of Representatives) approved it.