Within the last year, two major events have occurred in the Western political and geostrategic landscape: Brexit on June 23, 2016 and the election of the American President Donald Trump on November 8, 2016.
It is undeniable that these two campaigns – a referendum in Great Britain and a presidential one in the United States – embody protectionism, the supremacy of the nation and the devaluation of the international. We could call this nationalism, but I prefer not to use this word in order to avoid extremist and fundamentalist interpretations.
Today, there are 300,000 international students in Great Britain, but Theresa May would like to reduce that number to 170,000. An article in The Guardian details the reasons for this and, above all, the inconveniences of such a measure.[i]
In the United States the situation is not any better for international students. This Country hosts almost a million international students. China, India and South Korea, alone, represent half of the international students, followed by Saudi Arabia, Nepal, etc.[ii]
And yet, since the adoption of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration laws and the interventions that have accompanied and followed it, the number of international students in American universities is declining. Out of the 250 American universities contacted by Inside Higher Ed, nearly 40% have experienced a decrease in the number of their international students[iii].
The perception that students coming from China, the Gulf Countries or the Middle East now have is a deciding factor in the choice of their destination. Are we going to be humiliated at the airport or the university because of our ethnicity, culture, country of origin, religion, etc.?
Faced with this landscape, France has a word to say and assets to exploit: French universities, business schools, engineering schools, communication institutes, fashion schools, etc.
Today, figures in French higher education are asking how to relevantly read these major geopolitical events and what steps should be taken in order to attract qualified foreign students to France who are disappointed in the United States and Great Britain.
First of all, we should not prioritize French over English. It is not by imposing French as a language of learning that we will promote France as a destination or French as a foreign language. Programs in English and French should both be presented without any particular preference for programs in French. However, every international student who does their studies in English must learn French in order to be able to live in France and communicate with their surroundings. Yes, for studying in English and yes, for learning French, without discrimination or nationalism.
For example, France currently hosts 4,000 student from India. France would like to increase this number to 10,000 by 2020. Indeed, the quantity and number of young Indian students wanting to leave India for the West are not lacking. With the problems arising in the United States and Great Britain, today France represents, along with Germany, an ideal destination for Indian students. Even while studying in English, the latter must learn French in order to interact with their social milieu and, especially, their professional one if they plan on doing internships in France.
By playing the welcome and qualitative selection card, France will subsequently have accomplished ambassadors in India, young people who were educated in France with degrees from schools that are both French and international. The same applies to China, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc. Without forgetting expats from the Gulf Countries and the Middle East, who are forbidden from going to the United States by default (Yemenites, Libyans, Syrians, etc.), or who already dread the idea of going there.
Indeed, in the Gulf Countries, there are well-off middle-class communities (Syrian, Yemenite, Libyan, Tunisian, Algerian, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, etc.), who are looking for an international higher education option for their children in a Western country. If we lump Islam together with Islamic fundamentalism or if we adopt a protectionist stance, we risk missing out on the chance to educate these youths and, subsequently benefit French society.
Yet, the French, by predominantly electing Emmanuel Macron as the President of the Republic, did not choose protectionism in any shape or form. France remains the Nation of culture and could become a land of international education by training future executives and managers in French and English. Let’s not miss this opportunity!