France’s lower house approved a plan to allow more courses to be taught in English at French universities, despite concerns that such a move might undermine efforts to promote the French language.
The full bill is expected to be approved in the Assembly and the upper house Senate, where the ruling Socialists and their allies have majorities. The vote followed two hours of heated debate, with lawmakers from the main right-wing opposition UMP saying the measure threatens France’s identity.
“A people that speaks a foreign language more and more loses its identity piece by piece,” said Jacques Myard of the UMP.
However Socialist MP Thierry Mandon called the controversy “a storm in a teacup.”
The aim of the measure is to improve the employability of French young people but also to increase the number of foreign students at France’s universities from 12 percent of the total to 15 percent by 2020.
Supporters argue that in an increasingly competitive global market for higher education, if some lectures and teaching take place in English, more foreign students will be attracted to French universities. They will then inevitably improve their French while studying in France.
France’s prestigious and highly selective Grandes Ecoles, which are separate from the less selective university system, already deliver strands of their courses in English, as do many business schools.
30 per cent of students who study outside their home country choose the United States, while 18 per cent choose Britain. France hopes to improve on its current figure of 11 per cent.
Several unions, some public figures and the influential Académie Française, set up in 1635 to regulate and protect the French language, condemned the measure.