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French universities court world’s brightest students

Photo: AFP

The French government has started unveiling a series of reforms aimed at making its universities more attractive to foreigners, with a new emphasis on drawing in the brightest students from developing countries.


France is set to adopt measures that will help draw the world’s brightest students to its universities, according to government ministers. The reforms are meant to improve the experience of foreign students in France and open possibilities for them in the country's job market.

“International students and researchers represent an asset for France. The way we welcome them in our country is very important for France’s academic and scientific influence, but also for our economic competitiveness,” Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso (pictured main) told students during a visit to Cité U campus on Tuesday.

She was accompanied by Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who acknowledged that burdens placed on students, notably requirements to renew visas every year, were sometimes “degrading”.

Measures in the works included new two-to-three year student visas whose expiration would depend on the type of diploma students were working towards.

New centres dedicated to easing academic and administrative paperwork for international students, and loosening labour laws to permit an easier transition from the classroom to French-based jobs, were also planned as part of the charm offensive.

Finally, Fioraso highlighted French-language lessons for students from non-French speaking countries and a rapid build-up of affordable student housing in Paris.

The new package of laws had been scheduled for debate in France’s National Assembly as early as May 13, but took a back seat to a controversial bill to extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Leader in a 'fragile' position

Fioraso said that French universities had to actively pursue a leadership role across the globe, and that she would push for a new focus on cooperation with developing countries.

“France must continue to attract the world’s best students, but should also diversify their geographical origin. We must look to emerging markets, the BRICs,” she said in reference to Brazil, Russia, India and China.

She lamented that relatively few students from South Korea, a country that invests heavily in research and development, could be seen in the halls of French universities. She also called attention to the low number of academic exchanges between France and India.

France had dropped from 4th to 5th on the list of countries welcoming international university students, the minister said, adding that while it held an enviable status its position was “fragile”.

“President [Barack] Obama has launched an ambitious policy to attract scientists. Major English-speaking countries are taking the lead in foreign exchange programmes. France cannot sit back and ignore these developments,” Fioraso warned.

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