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In an attempt to go global, France is revamping its education system to welcome the best of international talent

education Updated: Nov 16, 2011 10:37 IST
Vandana Ramnani

The education landscape of France is changing. The country is all set to gain a competitive edge in higher education and research. It has focused goals to create comprehensive universities that are internationally competitive. As the vice chancellor of universities of Paris Edouard Husson succinctly puts it, “We are working towards creating universities of excellence.”

“The French are proud to be different. For long they have been aware of the lack of attractiveness of their universities, the need to internationalise and the problems of governance faced by their institutions. The shock caused by international rankings (such as Shanghai) has had the effect of creating a general consensus on the need for reform,” he says.

Three major complementary processes involving French universities are currently underway. These involve financial investments, creating and regrouping education clusters, and giving autonomy to universities where presidents of universities are now managers with their own budgets. Between 2007 and 2012, the state would have undertaken a total additional expenditure of 9 billion euros in higher education and research. Despite the financial crisis, the ministry of higher education and research has put in 22 billion euros as investment. “We want to prepare our future and ensure that our reform process is a success,” Laurent Wauquiez, minister of higher education and research, told HT Education in Paris.

The amount of 22 billion euros is from a 35 billion euros ‘Investing in the Future’ fund that will be focused on higher education, with independent experts picking the best ideas, rather than ministers, Wauquiez said.

Edouard Husson agrees that in the education market, France has a tough competition with the US and the UK. “We have a high percentage of students coming to France to write PhDs but not many to do masters. We need to be more competitive in that direction. We have 18,000 students from India and 30,000 Chinese students but mostly masters and doctorate students. We also have to work hard for bachelors figures. My goal would be to see university of Paris sign agreements with most Indian universities. This I feel is a more realistic goal.”

“We’re now offering more courses in English,” he adds.

Changes for the better
* Creation of five to seven world-class universities competing to attract the best students and scholars from around the world. These come under the Initiative d’ Excellence (IDEX), touted as the French equivalent of the American Ivy League
* Greater autonomy to French universities. New laws have transferred control over the budget and human resources from the government to the French institutions of higher education and research

The shock caused by international rankings (such as Shanghai) has had the effect of creating a general consensus on the need for reform
Edouard Husson, vice chancellor of universities of Paris