France Stratégie, the French government’s arm for national strategies, last week released the first ever comprehensive Report on the state of French higher education institutions’ international activities.
The report is aptly subtitled “the urgency of a strategy” as we can read between the lines how far France lags behind higher education leaders, despite a growth of initiatives in the past 10 years.
The main findings are:
- With 600 programmes delivered across the whole range of disciplines and levels, French institutions are indeed active abroad.
- They are present in 140 physical locations, including 40 branch campuses.
- 37,000 students worldwide attend these programmes.
- The main target countries are Morocco, Vietnam, China, Lebanon and Tunisia.
- Almost 70% of the offering is at the masters and postgraduate levels.
- 69% of the courses are delivered in French.
- Engineering schools are the most active, followed by business schools.
Outside of this positive news, the report indicates that most of the strategies used by French institutions are more opportunistic than part of a clear strategy and that underinvestment in international strategies is worrying.
The report suggests four different strategies:
- An outreach strategy based on scientific and academic diplomacy, with the state and its diplomatic network supporting institutions’ strategies more/better;
- Deployment of a research strategy, focusing internationalisation on centres of research excellence worldwide;
- A market appropriation strategy aimed at seizing opportunities abroad, although the report notes that higher education institutions would need to adapt some of their offerings to be ready for this;
- A digital diversification strategy that develops a proper online offering that could be attractive for international students.
While the publication of this report – finally – is to be commended, questions remain and despite being cautious, the report remains rather optimistic.