French split over English at universities

Wed May 22, 2013 12:25pm EDT
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* Parliament debating higher education reform

* Bill could see English introduced as teaching language

* Opponents fear French language under threat

By Nicholas Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - Defenders of the French language are furious at plans to introduce courses taught in English at public universities, arguing that France must protect itself against linguistic encroachment or risk losing its cultural identity.

Parliament started to debate the issue on Tuesday as part of a bill on a broader reform of higher education, but all attention has focused on an article that would abolish a 19-year ban on English as a teaching language at public universities.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government backs the change, which it says would help to attract foreign students and help French graduates compete in a global economy as the country struggles to regain competitiveness.

More French students fearing dismal job prospects at home, where youth unemployment is nearly 25 percent, are studying and working abroad, notably in London, which has become the city with the sixth largest French population in the world.

However, opponents of the law, who include professors, lawmakers and the French language oversight body Academie Francaise, say "la francophonie" must be defended and that the change would be a betrayal of other French-speaking nations.   Continued...

Students sit for the philosophy baccalaureate exam at the French Louis Pasteur Lycee in Strasbourg, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler