This is a critical moment for higher education systems across Europe. Our universities face the challenge of fiscal retrenchment. At the same time, globalisation means growing competition from institutions in North America, South East Asia and elsewhere. To attract students and research funding, our systems must continue to modernise.
In meeting these challenges, however, our higher education systems will make a vital contribution to growth and prosperity. By generating knowledge for commercial exploitation and by preparing students for the world of work, universities are essential to improving economic performance.
Success in both these areas hinges on strong, equal partnerships between universities and businesses. In a situation where governments are less able to take on the burden of funding research, such partnerships are necessary to develop clusters of excellence which, in turn, generate further investment.
Similarly, universities need to do more to prepare their students for employment, while employers – in the public as well as the private sector – should be involved in curriculum design.
This is not about reducing higher education to the function of job training. Universities perform civic, intellectual and cultural roles which are just as important as any economic one. Nevertheless, they have a responsibility to ensure that students – the principal users of universities – obtain the skills necessary to support them during their working lives. Higher education provides young people with a primary route into adulthood and employment. It is important not only that every young person, irrespective of background, has the opportunity to study at university, but that sound advice on higher education and subsequent careers is available from an early age.
In the global higher education marketplace, the value of international partnerships is increasingly evident, and there is much we can learn from each other. There is, of course, a long history of fruitful collaboration between our countries and our universities. France and the United Kingdom, for example, were among the original signatories to the Sorbonne Declaration in 1998, which set the Bologna Process in motion and led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area.
More recently, there is an encouraging trend towards more joint degree programmes, dual diplomas and joint research projects between French and British institutions, in addition to the ongoing exchange of students and faculty.
Representing 1 per cent of the world population, the UK produces almost 8 per cent of the publications in peer-reviewed journals, second after the USA; and the UK is second also on the index of the most cited articles. The UK is the first G8 country for the number of publications and patents delivered by invested pound. Since 1945, 58 British individuals have become Nobel Prize laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology and Medicine (in which they are, again, second after their US colleagues).
These figures are perhaps part of the reason why, among students who wish to attend a university outside of their native country, 12 per cent choose to go to the UK, the second destination after the USA. Supporting this choice is the excellent international ranking enjoyed by British universities. Thus, the 2009 Shanghai ranking puts two British universities (Cambridge and Oxford) in the top 10, and 11 in the first 100, the overwhelming majority of them being American. For the Times Higher Education 2009 ranking, 4 out of the top 10 universities are British (Cambridge, University College London, Oxford and Imperial College London), with 18 being in the top 100.
Finally, there are three other points worthy of mention:
• Forty-two per cent of postgraduate students are foreigners, compared with 33 per cent in the American universities.
• Eighty-five per cent of the public research and development funds are captured by only 25 universities out of 166 higher education institutions; this tendency might increase as we enter a period of constrained funding, meaning that selection of projects will be harsher.
• Considering the number of authors at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique co-signing a paper with foreign laboratory colleagues, the scientists belonging to British labs rank second currently, just behind their German colleagues.
Introduction: France, Europe and a Developing Global Agenda
While universities in the UK have long nurtured international collaborations, the last decade or so has seen a sharp change in the nature of these engagements. The majority of leading institutions now have a specific international strategy that seeks to foster research connections with other institutions, recruit undergraduate and postgraduate students for study in the UK and, in a growing number of cases, deliver courses overseas. Relations with European countries, including France – the focus of the present volume – have had prominence since the 1970s, when the UK joined what is now the European Union (EU), and have a particular character because of it, but must also increasingly be seen in the context of an individual university's global strategy. This chapter uses the experience of Queen Mary, University of London, to show the way in which a major institution's links with France may be seen within this wider context. It also uses the experience of the development of the University of London Institute in Paris – and its recent closer links with two of the federal Colleges, Queen Mary and Royal Holloway – to show how delivery of programmes in France matches wider institutional research and teaching priorities.
The development of integrated international strategies for universities has become a growing priority as the UK has increasingly turned to the global student market for extra revenue, both by bringing students to the UK and by offering qualifications overseas. The UK has performed particularly well on the world stage in this respect, though an emphasis on high-fee recruitment from outside the EU is now being replaced by a more subtle strategy of wider engagement. As Becker et al. argue, ‘UK universities need to build mutually beneficial relationships in all areas of internationalization – beyond the apparent bottom line of international student recruitment’. There is considerable evidence that this is now happening after the rather heady growth of student numbers over the last 10–15 years. Though engagement with Europe has not generally flagged in absolute terms during this period, reassessment of strategy nevertheless allows the opportunity of re-emphasising its importance.
In the UK and elsewhere in the anglophone world, contemporary literature in French continues to be a strong field of study in both research and teaching. Traditionally lone scholars, researchers of literature are now increasingly being pressured by their institutions to network, to collaborate and, above all, to generate large sums of external research funding. Contemporary women-authored literature is not the threatened subject that some other contributions to this publication document – it is widely researched and taught on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses – except perhaps in the sense that if women's writing is not made visible, there is a risk that it will become invisible again (for instance, many published surveys of contemporary literature are still dominated by male-authored texts). However, working on the very contemporary does have its own issues and challenges.
It is in the above context that I chart here the case of the Contemporary Women's Writing in French (CWWF) seminar and research network, together with its related activities. My aim is to offer CWWF as a relatively low-cost, groundswell example of the possibilities for developing a research field and informal research network. While this in itself does not necessarily address the challenges of generating large collaborative research grants, it does represent a way for individual scholars with shared interests to come together for a common purpose, to explore and develop a field of study, to refine methodologies, to forge collaborations with colleagues they know they can work with, and thus to build a position of strength from which the much desired large research funding can be applied for. It is thus a bottom-up model of collaboration that is formed out of genuine common interest, rather than a top-down version where as yet unknown research partners are required to identify and seek out each other.
Before discussing the current place of Britain in the international strategy of the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) and its possible evolution in the near future, it may be useful to start by highlighting a few of the EPHE's specificities against the general background of French higher education institutions.
The École Pratique des Hautes Études ‘At a Glance’
An explanation of the word pratique in the name of the school will serve as a good introduction to the motives behind the creation of the EPHE in the late 1860s and also to what it is today.
Until 1868, all teaching at the University of Paris's most prestigious Sorbonne was in the form of ex cathedra lectures delivered by the most distinguished of professors. The transmission of knowledge was, by ancient tradition, a top-down, one-way process, with the Sorbonne as the symbol of the preeminence of French science. Yet some felt that France needed to match the increasingly remarkable achievements of German academia. The rivalry between France and Germany, which originated in Prussian national resistance to Napoleonic conquest, was a key element of European politics throughout the nineteenth century and also a major source of wars (this is why historians regard the year 1914 as the true end of the nineteenth century in Europe). In an age of exacerbated nationalisms, this rivalry was very much alive in academic matters and French scholars were very much aware of their German counterparts’ achievements in many fields, ranging from philosophy to history to basic and life sciences. Central to German universities was a combination of ‘classic’ ex cathedra teaching – based on a clear hierarchy of authority between professors and students, as was the case in France – and a specific practice: the seminar. The principle of the seminar is that the professor and students do research work together in an environment where documentation is readily available. One can look up a reference in a book, put the volume on the table and start a critical discussion of a source or of an idea. The difference between the two approaches to teaching (or training) is substantial: the contrast is between, on the one hand, authority delivering scientific truth from on high and, on the other hand, a document-based, collective effort involving the joint practice of research and critical appraisal.
Many leading academics and employers argue that students who participate in academic mobility placements enhance their employability. Indeed, the European Commission's 2009 Green Paper Promoting the Learning Mobility of Young People opens with the following statement:
learning mobility, i.e. transnational mobility for the purpose of acquiring new skills, is one of the fundamental ways in which individuals, particularly young people, can strengthen their future employability as well as their personal development.
A report published in November 2009 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) also found that Erasmus students have a better profile of degree results than other students, 75 per cent of them receiving either a first or an upper second honours degree, compared with 60 per cent of students from four-year courses. Traditionally in the UK, such placement opportunities have been restricted to undergraduate (‘cycle 1’) students, whose study periods are based at partner universities or educational establishments.
This chapter highlights an ambitious and exciting project involving universities in Wales and the Versailles region, along with two chambers of commerce – one based in Versailles and the other in South Wales. Its unusual characteristic is that it places emphasis on industrial-based mobility placements for students and professional development courses for young employees – of both a transnational and a cross-sector nature. The project was conceived at a seminar organised by Welsh Higher Education Brussels (WHEB), in November 2009. At the seminar, colleagues from a number of countries were invited to consider means of developing innovative mobility opportunities in line with the ambitions of the European Commission, as articulated in the above-mentioned Green Paper and in its communication on employment of June 2009. The communication highlights mobility as a key priority in the development of a knowledge-based economy and society – essential in facing current economic challenges. Furthermore, the ministers of Europe with responsibility for higher education have set a target: by 2020, 20 per cent of students graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have benefited from a transnational mobility experience. At the Brussels seminar it was stressed that the higher education sector will need to be ambitious in its plans if it is to meet this target.
The central purpose of this book is to offer a picture of French Studies today, an analysis – from the inside – of what the discipline has become and where it might and, indeed, must go in the future. We hope that this anatomisation of French Studies and the way in which it is taught, researched and managed in the UK will help to energise debates around the place of modern languages in the modern university.
The world of higher education has been changing radically since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the next ten years will witness the most significant changes experienced over the past half century, as many countries prioritise higher education and invest considerably in it. On the other hand, in the UK, especially after the October 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, which was the most severe austerity budget for 60 years, universities and other higher education institutions (HEIs) are facing considerable challenges in terms of their funding, of recruitment of students at all levels, of international competitiveness and, crucially, of their own missions and identities. Furthermore, the government's decision on student funding means that there will be considerably more competition to attract the best students from the UK and from overseas, and in a context of severe financial constraints.
It is now axiomatic that much is changing in the new world of international education – and changing very fast. Students are travelling more and more to different countries for their higher education, and they have high expectations both of their student learning experience and of their employment prospects. For their part, employers expect broad skill sets and evidence of some work experience as well as disciplinary knowledge, and national and regional governments increasingly expect higher education to deliver on national priorities.
In this world of challenges but also of opportunities, universities and subject communities are having to think much more strategically. Key strategic directions are: (a) towards a broadening of the curriculum; (b) towards ever more interdisciplinarity; (c) towards internationalisation of universities, both at home and overseas.
The Entente Cordiale put an end to centuries of recurrent conflict between England and France, and signalled the beginning of a peaceful coexistence, which continues today. The success of the agreement was underlined by the extensive, year-long celebrations on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of its signing in 1904. The centenary commemorations were marked by state visits on both sides of the Channel. In her speech on 5 April 2004, in Paris, Queen Elizabeth II stressed the enduring closeness of these two ancient enemies:
Thousands of British are settling, living and working in France, and thousands of French are crossing the Channel to do the same. Millions of British holidaymakers visit France each year.… Economically and culturally we are doing so much more together, as our companies invest both ways across the Channel, and the worlds of for example fashion, art and sport are increasingly interdependent.
The question raised by these observations is: to what extent can higher education be added to this list? In the same speech, the Queen went on to present the other side of the coin:
Of course we will never agree on everything. Life would be dull indeed, not least for the rest of the world, if we did not allow ourselves a little space to live up to our national caricatures – British pragmatism and French élan; French conceptualism and British humour; British rain and French sun; I think we should enjoy the complementarity of it all.
She concluded with a ringing ‘Vive la différence, mais vive L'Entente Cordiale’.
As academic professionals seek to forge closer links between French and British higher education establishments, it is perhaps worthwhile examining the particularities of the French Grande École system.
The Grande École System
The first Grandes Écoles came into being in France in the late eighteenth century. They exist side by side with the universities within the state education system, the Education Nationale, while remaining quite separate. The main difference is that French universities are obliged to accept all students who pass the Baccalaureate, while the Grandes Écoles have very strict recruitment criteria. Candidates are obliged to take a demanding entrance examination and generally spend at least two years preparing for this at specialist écoles préparatoires.
The landscape of Franco-British university cooperation is rich, verdant and increasingly densely wooded. There is no one vantage point from which to survey it in its entirety: the most rewarding way to explore it is to pause over some of the most arresting trees and imposing clusters. That is the approach taken in this book. But it also sets itself a more ambitious target: to map new terrain for planting and nurture, for education and research, like horticulture, are perhaps our most tangible commitment to future generations.
The book is the fruit of a one-day conference on Franco-British cooperation in the higher education sector, held at the Institut français in London in January 2010. The conference, organised in association with the Franco-British Council, was almost certainly the largest-ever symposium on the subject, bringing together 220 top policymakers, scholars, scientists, administrators and journalists.
The day's agenda was a very full one. The starting-point for the discussions was, as the French Ambassador Bernard Émié says in his Foreword, a cause for celebration: the steady increase in joint programmes and qualifications offered by universities in Britain and France, and the proliferation of research partnerships, generating real added value. But the economic and financial backdrop for the higher education sector right now is more than usually challenging. To say nothing of the always fraught issues of university autonomy and the contentious boundaries of public and private.
But this volume is not the place to tackle such vital and pressing issues as public funding cuts, unequal access, grade inflation and, in the United Kingdom, the need to rebuild the teaching of foreign languages – including, crucially, French – in our schools. Rather, the idea is that we should climb blinking out of our separate silos into the sunlight, to exchange ideas on how we can take our many flourishing academic partnerships – jointly taught programmes, research collaboration, exchanges of personnel and students – to the next level. There is a lot of work to do. If we are to restore that very medieval and Renaissance idea of a borderless community of students and scholars, we will need to dismantle many more barriers to mobility – not only logistical and financial, but psychological and linguistic as well.
Oxford University's French subfaculty occupies a rather unusual position in the network of French Studies in the UK: the size of the department, the collegiate structure of the university, and certain of its very specific traditions all contribute to this singularity. But in recent years this department has, like so many others, undergone a series of necessary changes; some of them welcome and others less so. Certain of these changes will doubtless require development in the coming years: it is these changes that form the subject of this chapter.
It begins with a rapid overview, rendered absolutely necessary by the singularities mentioned above. But the function of this quick sketch, which does not claim to be exhaustive, is largely to provide a background for two proposals, addressed in the two subsequent sections. In keeping with the spirit of this volume, this is not an attempt to present a complete survey of the activities of the department; rather the aim is to focus on specific case studies. The two evoked here concern the early modern period, which is one of the sectors most beset with worries for the future. It should be emphasised that this is merely one viewpoint: both the overview and the choice of examples are clearly based on the author's (or the authors’) own experience, and represent only his (or their) opinion. Equally, the resulting suggestions are simply intended to provide material for wider reflection.
The French subfaculty at Oxford comprises more than 30 postholders (31 or 35, including the specialists in French linguistics, who are also attached to the linguistics faculty). To this we add college lecturers, a peculiarity of the Oxford collegiate system (their number can vary, but only within certain limits, and the current total stands at 18), junior research fellows, and visiting professors and researchers occupying set posts. In all, then, a faculty of somewhere in the region of 60 people involved in teaching and research. The size of the department enables it to cover every period of literature (from the medieval to the present day), and a whole range of specific themes (including womens’ studies, francophone studies and cinema).
The healthy state of academic cooperation between France and the United Kingdom reflects the dynamic relationship which continues to exist between our two countries. The papers presented in this book bear witness to this dynamism and the willingness of higher education institutions and agencies to work together to develop innovative and creative models for academic partnerships to face the future challenges in higher education.
The United Kingdom, like France, is convinced of the long-term gains that can be achieved through academic mobility and collaboration. For students, an international experience, at an age when friendships and impressions are forged for life, is often a decisive moment in their personal and professional lives. For academic staff involved in joint programmes and exchanges, the opportunity to open a window onto another culture, another way of thinking and teaching, is a motivating and strengthening experience. And collaboration in research and innovation, particularly strong between British and French universities, enables an efficient use of skills and resources, and associates our countries in cutting-edge research to help find solutions to the grand challenges of our time.
The value of these collaborations – which work best when done at institutional level between autonomous institutions – is enormous. Over and above the increased mutual understanding of our two countries and cultures – the sort of understanding one can really only get by living in and experiencing a country and its language, culture and norms on the ground – is the opportunity it offers to students, academics and researchers to develop the cultural awareness and transferable skills that are now so attractive to employers in an increasingly globalised world.
The British Embassy in Paris, in collaboration with the British Council in France and the French Embassy in London, has contributed in its own way to the flow of students between our two countries, through the privately-funded Entente Cordiale scholarship scheme, founded in 1995 by President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister John Major. Since that time some 400 students have benefited from a scholarship to study in France or the UK through the programme and in almost every case this experience has brought them closer to achieving their professional goals.
Companies are now looking for graduates with an international profile. Because of economic globalisation and the inherent population moves, cultural diversity within companies has dramatically increased over recent years. Managers are now expected to be able to coordinate international teams and to deal with cross-cultural issues on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, managers are often requested to relocate to other countries. This is an extremely stressful situation that can have a strong impact on managers’ performance and on their personal life.
The best way to prepare for this type of situation is to go through the process of relocating in a foreign country during university studies. What we call ‘student mobility’, or the possibility to study at a partner institution for a period of time during a degree programme, allows students to learn these skills. Experiencing the lack of familiarity with everyday customs and procedures, language barriers and that people do things differently in other countries will benefit graduates’ development. The skills learnt will help graduates to face the challenges of relocating to a foreign country and will make them more valuable to future employers.
Universities are adjusting to this new reality by offering double degrees or the opportunity to study at partner institutions. At a European level, huge steps have been made with first the Erasmus project at the end of the 1980s and then with the Bologna Process. However, the specificities of a national education system sometimes make this process more difficult: for example, the French Grande École system is not always clearly understood outside France. Also, degree recognition is still not always possible.
Student mobility is possible through three main processes: the Erasmus programme, double degrees and visiting students.
The Erasmus programme
Erasmus (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) is a European Union student exchange programme established in 1987. There are currently more than 4000 higher education institutions participating in the Erasmus programme across 31 countries and over 2.2 million students have already taken part.
To participate in the Erasmus programme, students must be studying for a degree in a higher education institution and must have completed their first year. Students who join the programme study or undertake an internship for a period of between three months to an academic year in another European country.
Thank you very much Mr Ambassador for your warm welcome.
Ladies and gentlemen, Madames et Messieurs, I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the long-established and fruitful links between British and French higher education institutions. So, thank you again for the invitation.
I am also pleased to share the podium again with my former sparring partner, Bill Rammell MP, who, as you can all see, remains very passionate about higher education issues.
During my tenure as President of Universities UK from 2007 to 2009, the Ambassador kindly hosted a meeting at his residence for me and some of my fellow vice-chancellors and the presidents of a number of French universities. Together, we discussed the effects on our institutions of what was then still only the beginning of the economic downturn. We also discussed the impact of government legislation on our ability to run our institutions, and the European Union's plans for higher education and research.
As one may expect from any meeting between French and British officials, we didn't necessarily agree on everything. However, I think all of us came away from the meeting with a greater appreciation of the diversity in higher education that exists between our countries. Our different traditions, modes of working, academic and research cultures have enriched the many students and scholars who have crossed the Channel over the centuries. Your attendance at this seminar today only proves the continuing value of student and staff exchange programmes, joint degree programmes, and cooperation in research between our two countries.
Dear colleagues, I hope as a result of this seminar today that the next chapter of Franco-British academic partnerships will be as richly illustrated and make such interesting and rewarding reading as the chapters that have gone before.
It is often assumed that the tremendous increase in communication, information and communications technology (ICT), travel and the free movements of capital, labour, citizens and services facilitated by the European Single Market over the past few decades have transformed and deepened inter-state relationships. But the evidence does not wholly support this assumption. At the end of the nineteenth century, not only was globalisation as much a real driver of trade and exchanges as it is today, but inter-state exchanges at many levels were intensive and constructive. Between France and the UK there was a level of understanding and respect between the respective national research institutions, albeit often driven by competitive forces evidenced in exploration, discovery, colonial ambition and simple rivalry for prestige and position on a European and global stage.
Today, the mantra of globalisation can lead people to overlook the potential for closer bilateral ties across the Channel. The phrase ‘elevated bilateral relationships’, as used in June 2010 by the British Foreign Secretary, more often refers to links with developing countries than with member states of the European Union (EU). And much of the thrust of French planning and funding under the Grand Emprunt is to provide the country, via a small group of French research centres, with much greater international visibility, attractiveness and prestige.
Examples of Franco-British academic partnerships have, in the main, been informed and sustained by an array of enthusiastic individuals, succeeding often despite an equal array of limitations and barriers. But if France and Britain wish to secure and sustain rank, growth and employment, and be present at the top table in a number of globally important research-informed sectors, it will be necessary for academic partnerships to be part of a much closer interaction of the knowledge-intensive hubs of both countries. The Franco-British Defence Treaty, agreed in November 2010, shows what can be done when goodwill, shared leadership and economic pressures force the pace for historic burden sharing and opportunity shaping. Military affairs are generally marked by some discipline; academic communities share a more individualistic mind-set. But, given similar challenges for both communities, perhaps the time has come for a discipline of serious discourse for future academic partnerships leading to evidence-based shared needs to do things better together.
In the 1970s, staff in the School of Languages and Area Studies (SLAS) at Portsmouth Polytechnic (as it was then) decided to develop a new type of language degree. At that time, the traditional model was the ‘lang and lit’ degree programme. Students who wanted to study languages were more or less obliged to combine the study of their chosen language(s) with the study of (mostly) the literary classics of that country. There were a few exceptions: York University, for example, offered programmes in language and linguistics, Salford and Bath specialised in translation, while Aston offered students the opportunity to combine language study with business administration. But the vast majority of language students took a ‘lang and lit’ degree.
It was against this background that Portsmouth, along with a small number of other UK higher education institutions, sought to break away from the traditional model and develop a new type of language degree – the ‘language and area studies’ degree programme – that would combine language study with the study of the history, politics, economy, society and culture of the country, or countries, in question. The new approach was to be resolutely multi-disciplinary and was essentially, but not exclusively, rooted in the social sciences.
The pioneers of this new approach recognised from the outset the importance of research. This was essential, first, for the development of an intellectual framework for the delivery of the new degree programmes. What were the implications of multidisciplinarity for curriculum development and delivery? Which were the key disciplines that should underpin an area studies approach and how could they be combined effectively? Was genuine interdisciplinarity, as opposed to multidisciplinarity, a possible and desirable objective within an undergraduate curriculum? These were some of the key questions that pioneers of the area studies approach sought to address. Second, there was a need for up-to-date, cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research to underpin and inform the teaching on these new degree programmes.
Ten years ago, the teaching of French in British universities was in decline. Five years ago it was in peril throughout the land, with many French departments closing. As an academic subject, French nose-dived in terms of student recruitment figures, the discipline apparently destined to be confined to a branch of classics in Russell Group institutions. It was at risk from extinction in the former polytechnics where it became threatened even as a subsidiary subject in its market-friendly incarnation as Business French. To many, the choice was stark but clear – stake all on French for Business or die.
But for some, even this solution was either too little or too late to save the day, with the result that the subject was phased out as a meaningful part of their undergraduate provision from the early 2000s, as a string of French and modern languages departments and sections were closed, or disappeared into merged subject areas where languages – let alone French – seldom featured in the title. Yearly, members of surviving French departments would gather at the French Institute to watch a film d'art et d'essai and lament the situation – and the bleak outlook. Meanwhile, out in the wider British higher education debate, the main justification for this debacle was ‘jobs’. With globalisation, the world was set to trade and to communicate in English. Europe was losing its appeal as a trading partner in favour of emerging markets to the East. It was now deemed a luxury to keep languages on the syllabus for the over 14s, with the possible exception of Mandarin Chinese.
Fortunately, the gloomiest forecasts have not been verified by the turn of events, and in 2010 the situation has largely recovered in those French departments that remain. Even the more vulnerable post-1992 institutions now recruit full cohorts and the emphasis has shifted to the need not to overshoot the recruitment targets set by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Former polytechnics have even upgraded their A-level entry requirements.
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