|(Top) students from all over the world gather at a college in France; and the University of Strasbourg (below).
France must let its universities teach more of their courses in English or risk losing top international students to other countries, the heads of its elite grandes écoles warned recently. Laws to defend the language by enforcing the use of French must be relaxed in recognition of the global preference for English in higher education, they said.
“This is a delicate matter but, if we do not put more courses into English, we are going to lose 95 per cent of the best foreigners,” said Pierre Tapie, director of Essec, a leading Paris business school.
The conference of grandes écoles — the specialised establishments that train the cream of French engineers, scientists, business leaders, administrators and politicians — met in Paris a few days ago to seek ways of improving their standing in the global competition for international students. Some of the most exclusive of the écoles have been teaching in English for years but a 1993 law sets tight restrictions. The heads say this so-called Toubon law is counter-productive.
They subscribe to a controversial argument that has emerged over the past couple of years which holds that France can exert its influence and culture more effectively in the world by using English to convey it. It is better to educate foreigners in France, even if they fail to learn the language, than to drive them away, they believe.
The all-English argument amounts to sacrilege for a country that has spent hundreds of millions to fend off the onslaught of American English. The official view since the 1950s is that French is a beautiful but fragile tongue that is being deflowered by the vulgar Anglo-Saxon invader.
President Sarkozy, whose bad English forced him to drop out of Sciences Po, the top political sciences school, has ordered diplomats and officials to stop using English in public.
Campaign groups led by academics and writers are also crusading against the move to English that has been made over the past decade by many multinational French businesses, even in their French operations.
Last year a group of leading intellectuals called on the French people to resist an elite that was planning the nation’s “linguistic murder”.
“The defence of our linguistic heritage implies protection and active promotion of the French language,” the group said in a text published by Le Monde.
However, a younger generation has no complexes about the global language. “If the French want to exist in the world today they have to speak English,” said Frederic Martel, who caused a storm this year with a book with the English title Mainstream in which he attacked the French-only orthodoxy.
“Our goal is promoting the influence of France in the world and the dynamism of our economy. And that will be done in English.”
English programmes in French universities
► Grenoble École De Management (southeastern France)
Courses: International business, business administration, marketing, finance, entrepreneurship
Degrees / diplomas: Doctoral, postgraduate, undergraduate, professional certificates and executive education
► Universite de Strasbourg (northeastern France)
Courses: Management, business administration, finance, economics, politics
Degrees / diplomas: Masters
► Universite Montpellier 2 (southern France)
Courses: Management, business administration, finance
Degrees / diplomas: Masters
► École Nationale de l'Aviation Civile, Toulose (southwest France)
Courses: Aviation, Air Transport Administration, Air Traffic Control
Degrees / diploma: Masters and diploma
► Bordeaux École de Management (southwest France)
Courses: Wine studies, global supply chain management
Degrees / Diploma: MBA and MSc