May 23, 2013 in Nation/World

Colleges in France discuss teaching classes in English

Current law requires courses in French
Jamey Keaten Associated Press

PARIS – In France, there’s a brewing debate on whether to speak anglais in universite.

The National Assembly on Wednesday was taking up an education reform bill that would allow public universities to hold some courses – like science or economics classes – in English, a plan that has alarmed language purists and the political far-right alike.

President Francois Hollande’s Socialist-led government is pushing the idea to better prepare French students for the global job market and lure more foreign brains. But France’s complex history with Britain means perceived incursions of the language of Shakespeare often go down badly.

French law requires classes to be conducted in French, though a 1994 revision allows some non-Francophone foreign students and teachers to hold some classes in English. But Higher Education Minister Genevieve Fioraso says some schools, including the super-elite “Grandes Ecoles,” are flaunting the law by holding hundreds of courses in English.

She says her “good sense” reform would expand access to English instruction for less well-off students and help French schools catch up with other European universities where English already is broadly used – like in Sweden or Germany – and which are competing for minds from developing nations like China, India and Brazil.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy took English lessons while in office but struggled to speak it publicly. Hollande was pilloried on Twitter in November after signing his congratulations letter to re-elected President Barack Obama, “Friendly, Francois Hollande” – a direct, and clumsy, translation of “amicalement” – an oft-used epistolary term in French.

The reform is in a broader higher education bill to be discussed in the Assembly, parliament’s lower house, during three days before a vote next week. It is part of efforts by the unpopular Hollande to reform a moribund economy, keep France competitive and ultimately create jobs, his No. 1 priority.

The Academie Francaise, the centuries-old guardian of the French language that has railed against incursions of terms like email and weekend, says the proposal would “degrade” the use of French in higher learning.

Fioraso has called the hubbub “much ado about nothing.” Her ministry says that less than 1 percent of all total university classes will be in English; only “technical” fields like science, math, and business will be affected; and foreign students will still take French.

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