The volume of students travelling to France for higher studies from India fell to almost a third of the pre-pandemic figure but the French authorities in India are confident of a quick turnaround.
“Our target is 20,000 students by 2025,” said French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain, who is on a three-day visit to Kolkata.
His optimism stems from the strong yearly increase in numbers achieved in the years preceding the outbreak.
“The pandemic has not been helpful for exchange of tourists and especially students. We were on a trend of 20 to 30 per cent yearly increase and had close to 10,000 Indian students going to France. The number has decreased a lot,” Lenain said.
But things, he pointed out, have “not been too bad”. “We did everything it takes to maintain the flow of students from India. We were one of the first countries to reopen for visa after the first wave. We made sure that the universities could provide a secure environment. Even if the students were not vaccinated, we provided a vaccine on arrival. With such steps, we were able to maintain a flow of 3,500 students for the last two years. I am confident that once the pandemic is behind us, we can go back to our initial trend.”
Compared to higher education in the US or the UK, the cost for a French degree or diploma is much lower as most of the cost is borne by French tax payers, the ambassador said. “We want students from abroad. It is good for the future of our relations with their countries. So we will not have them pay the full price of education and will subsidise a large part with public money,” he said.
Consul general Didier Talpain added that eastern India contributed about 10 per cent of the nationwide student volume.
Help for Visva-Bharati
The ambassador had travelled to Santiniketan in Birbhum district, around 165km northwest of Kolkata, on Monday. “Tagore was famous in France even before he got the Nobel as he was popularised by French intellectuals like Romain Rolland. When he launched the (Visva-Bharati) experiment in Santiniketan, scholars like Sylvain Levi joined the faculty. Integrating the arts in the curriculum and teaching in the open are very modern ideas which I wanted to see in practice.”
The ambassador commended the French department at Visva-Bharati, recalling how he was greeted by close to 100 French-speaking students. “We will see how we can help with providing training for their teachers. We discussed a future tie-up with Alliance Francaise du Bengale. We also discussed how we can help their best students continue their studies in France,” he said.
France is also on course to hold the Bonjour India (Festival of France in India) festival from March, he added.