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Universities’ attractiveness/university chancellors’ conference

Published on December 23, 2014
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, December 15, 2014


We’ve launched a programme to build 40,000 student housing units for French and foreign students over the five-year term. Work has already begun on 10,000. All the others have already been planned. We also want there to be a link – this goes for French students and foreign students alike – with research. We can’t separate higher education from research. (…)

When I think of France’s international impact, I think of research. Prizes have been awarded to eminent figures – many Nobel prizes, Fields medals too – over the past few years. This is a source of great pride for France. We also have scientific achievements which amaze us (…) when we see a robot land on a comet. We’re told that it took 20 years to make the project possible – and 10 years to carry it out. We’re now getting information from it, including on the very origins of the universe.
We need a high level of research, and particularly fundamental research.
I come back to the international challenge, because higher education is more global every day. There are four million young people today who are studying in a country other than their country of origin. Four million is huge. The number of students in the world, particularly in Asia, is constantly rising. There was a reminder of the figures earlier: China had seven million students in 2000; it will soon have 30 million. This is what’s happening on a global scale.

Foreign students who come to our country discover another culture and learn our language. They do so, too, to expand their skills, but also to bring their own experience, their own networks. In international comparisons, the number of foreign students is a criterion which particularly deserves to be examined. Is France badly placed for receiving foreign students? No, firstly because Paris (…) is one of the most desirable capitals for students from all over the world.

With 300,000 foreign students in France, three-quarters of them in our universities , our country holds third place in the world, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. We’re the main non-English-speaking country welcoming students from all over the world. Those are our strengths. Is that enough? No, we must continue welcoming foreign students and educate more students through international cooperation, particularly in emerging countries.

That’s why, if tomorrow’s economy is built at universities, diplomacy is also built by universities. That’s a new dimension. You were kind enough to recall the visit I’ve just paid to Kazakhstan. I took businesses and universities there. For businesses, it was a considerable asset for university chancellors to be there. A visit doesn’t have the same meaning at all when there’s a university dimension and a cultural dimension. That’s what happened.

Our country has an international impact through its technology, through the businesses that deploy it and the universities that invent it.
Whenever I or ministers pay visits, we must have this academic diplomacy which enables us both to uphold the principles of our foreign policy and to lead businesses to those countries in terms of exports and investment. Concluding international partnerships and welcoming foreign students are investments for our country.

We’ve tried to get a number of obstacles removed. The Guéant circular (1) created a lot of misunderstanding. But I want to emphasize nevertheless that there are still problems issuing visas. Countries, universities always tell me about constraints on the issuing visas of in a number of cases, and this damages our country’s influence. We must also make more host fellowships available for foreign students. (…)
France attracts the best researchers – many more than Germany or Italy. That’s shown by the statistics of the ERC [European Research Council], and I pay tribute to its president, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. It shows us that our country does have a great capacity to welcome high-calibre foreign researchers.

We also have researchers who go abroad. It’s good that some also go abroad. We’re not living in a world where barriers should be closed to prevent our people going abroad and opened so that others can come to our country. No, it’s an exchange. The whole challenge is to find out when those researchers can return to our country, too, to transfer to us the benefits of what they’ve experienced.

Our universities are also climbing up the international rankings. Four French institutions are among the top 100 in the Shanghai Ranking – which is of course entirely disputed – and we’re told there will soon be five. When we’ve risen further, we’ll make sure the Shanghai Ranking can be appreciated better in our country. These rankings matter, of course. What also matters is improving our students’ reception, living and study conditions. (…)./.

(1) Order by former Interior Minister Claude Guéant limiting foreign graduates’ right to work in France.

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