Law Opens Language Door but the English Horse Has Bolted: News

By Caulcutt, Clea | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, June 6, 2013 | Go to article overview

Law Opens Language Door but the English Horse Has Bolted: News


Caulcutt, Clea, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Row over use of English in French sector a moot point, research finds. Clea Caulcutt reports.

In parliament, the press and the academy, France is bitterly divided over whether its universities should be allowed to teach courses in English. However, recent findings show that the use of the language is widespread in French higher education, suggesting that the intense debate has been overtaken by events.

On 28 May, the French National Assembly passed a bill to reform higher education, paving the way for greater university autonomy and changes in governance. But it is Article 2 of the legislation, which concerns courses in foreign languages, that has provoked uproar among politicians and academics.

Under current legislation known as the Toubon Law, all university courses must be taught in French, with exceptions for language and so-called "international" courses.

The new legislation, which is set to be examined by the Senate this summer, does not scrap the Toubon Law but extends the exceptions. Under the provision, universities will be able to run courses in English if they have agreements with foreign institutions or are part of European higher education programmes.

Pierre Tapie, president of the business school ESSEC and head of the Conference des Grandes ecoles, which represents France's elite institutions, said that the reform was a step in the right direction.

"English is the language of globalisation, much like Latin was during the Middle Ages," he argued. "International students should be given the opportunity to study in France and the French need to progress in English."

Dr Tapie added: "It means less and less to say that the English language threatens the use of French. Some people, however, perceive globalisation as a threat and associate English with it."

Many academics and politicians nevertheless accuse the government of failing to defend the French language. The Academie Francaise, the country's pre-eminent learned body on matters pertaining to the tongue, has called for the bill to be shelved.

Anglo-American hegemony

However, recent findings show that the majority of French researchers use English on a regular basis and believe it to be the key to academic success. …

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