Tuesday, May 21, 2013

University Reform: After Pécresse, Fioraso

University reform: always a contentious subject in France. The Collectif des Universitaires had no use for Mme Pécresse's LRU and has even less use for Mme Fioraso's reform of the reform, which it claims is a continuation and exacerbation of the LRU in all but name. The rhetoric of its diatribe is so overheated, however, that one's skeptical hackles are raised from the outset.

Nevertheless, a more temperate piece by Le Monde's Nathalie Brafman also makes the point that the proposed Fioraso Law does not represent a break with the spirit of the Pécresse Law:
Le texte que défendra Geneviève Fioraso, la ministre de l'enseignement supérieur, ne revient pas sur l'autonomie des universités entérinée par la loi relative aux libertés et responsabilités des universités de l'ex-ministre Valérie Pécresse, votée en 2007. "Ce n'est pas une loi de rupture", a assumé le rapporteur de la loi, Vincent Feltesse (PS, Gironde).
So it all comes down to what you think autonomy has accomplished. If you believe the Collectif, it has paradoxically made universities more dependent than ever on the ministry of education, shrunk their budgets, prohibited the replacement of retiring professors, and established "petty potentates" at the local level, wreaking havoc with the selection process and enforcing mediocrity.

These charges will likely get little hearing in the forthcoming debate, however, because the question of whether some courses will be taught in English (in order to improve French students' facility with the language) will monopolize the attention of the nation's representatives, even though fewer than 1% of courses are affected. This is one of those initiatives that, though well meant, probably won't accomplish much. Real competence in a foreign language takes more than sitting passively through a course or two taught in that language. But is the harm really so great? Why not try the experiment? Does this initiative really "sign the death warrant" of the language of Racine, as some critics (hysterically) claim? Asked and answered.


FrédéricLN said...

"Asked and answered." Thank you, I'm learning (American) English coming round here!

Art Goldhammer said...

FLN, "Asked and answered" is from the world of law. If a lawyer asks a question in court and then provides his own answer before the witness can respond, the opposing lawyer can object by saying, "Asked and answered," which means that he is objecting to the posing of an illegitimate question framed so as to plant an idea in the mind of the jury regardless of what the witness actually says.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think that teaching in English will do a world of good. First because advanced ESL classes always include content classes. Second because it's been at least 10 years that content-based instruction is important on British and American campuses and FLAC courses have been around for at least 25 years, so it's high time French universities get with the times and learn from "best practices" in higher education. Learning a subject in a foreign language is a terrific way to learn and use that language - in particular, it helps to focus on content rather on form, whereas the French are often too focused on the latter. Third, one would have to be quite ignorant to think that by learning about a subject in English a person would "lose" or "forget" their native language, especially since most French students don't speak or understand English very well. Finally, the protests are over a fait accompli: teaching in English is already done but limited to a group of highly selective schools (Sciences Po) or majors (droit bilingue, droit francoaméricain..) - and no one protested that it shouldn't be done at these selective schools. So is the protest uniquely directed at average universities that receive average students, who therefore don't "deserve" this or shouldn't be free to implement this? If students have the ability to learn about a topic from various cultural angles and in another language, why should universities refuse? Shouldn't their goal be to expand knowledge, excite young minds and broaden their horizons, along perhaps teach them skills they'll need for future professions?
Oh, a funny addendum: classes in English exist at the high school level for "classes européennes" which are selective classes (based on grades in English/subject and motivation, with emphasis on the former or the latter depending on the school). So essentially good students who have challenged themselves in high school either have to turn to programs outside the regular university, or stop being challenged. I see this either as a paradox from an educational point of view or as a parody of debate from a political one.

MCG said...

Fellow readers,

For an interesting article opposing adoption of English as an official language in the universities, read "N'abandonns pas le francais," by Daniel Fasquelle. http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/daniel-fasquelle/nabandonnons-pas-le-franc_b_3325890.html?utm_hp_ref=france

For the reasons why French students do not master English, read Laurel Zuckerman's account of her own training as an English teacher at the Sorbonne. It's called Sorbonne Confidential. A friend who just retired from teaching in that program tells me Zuckerman's book is totally on target. It's also laugh-out-loud hilarious.



DavidinParis said...

I am a research scientist here in Paris. In the sciences, it is essential to have a common language for publishing and sharing results at conferences. The latest medical texts are in English. While one can debate the 'fairness' and potential impact of English as the lingua franca of science, there is little one can do to change this at the moment other than to recall that at one time it was German and yes, even French. When I travel to Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Holland, Germany, and almost anywhere else, I am often struck by how eager the students (Ph.D.) are to conduct their discussions in English. Internal seminars are in English. Their websites are in English. It is the French who make this an issue and resist the present situation. I can only admire their courage but also regret their stubbornness that has handicapped free exchange between France and the rest of the scientific community. As one glaring example of this stubbornness, I one arranged a local conference in Paris in which 10 or so French researchers were presenting their work with 3 foreign invited scientists who would spend the day with us all. Leading up to the conference was a rather heated exchange in which several local scientists decried my suggestion that everyone present in English in light of our foreign guests. I lost this fight and of course, our foreign guests were a bit surprised that half the presentations were in French (which they did not understand). This would never happen in any other European country.
As a second all to frequent example, when I am at a meeting organized internationally, I often find that instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to spend time talking with colleagues from all over the world, it is predominantly the French who stay cloistered in a corner with fellow Francophones.

Somehow I think this goes deeper than language but touches instead the issue of exceptionalism. This stated, I was recently in Scotland...had a tough time with the accent.