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Franco-British Academic Partnerships: The Next ChapterThe Next Chapter$

Philippe Lane and Maurice Fraser

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781846316630

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846316777

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(p.205) Appendix 2 Valérie Pécresse

(p.205) Appendix 2 Valérie Pécresse

Ministre de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (Madame Pécresse's Address Read by His Excellency Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, Ambassador of France to the UK)

Franco-British Academic Partnerships: The Next Chapter
Liverpool University Press

This seminar on Franco-British academic partnerships comes at a time when French higher education is entering a phase of deep mutation, the main characteristics of which I wish to recall here.

Since 2007, higher education has been a top priority for the French government, which is keen to bring universities back to the centre of the French education and research system, so that it can become a fully fledged actor on the international stage, able to respond to its challenges.

The central element of this reform is the law on the Liberties and Responsibilities of Universities (LRU), passed on 10 August 2007. This law defines the missions of universities in the field of teaching and research, and in the organisation of student life, careers advice and professional integration – the last two of these having now explicitly become obligations for the institutions. It draws the broad outline of a new governance for universities, where the powers of presidents and the competences of university councils are redefined; it strengthens the contract between the state and the institutions and grants universities a large degree of autonomy in managing their budgets.

The LRU also encourages institutions to better position themselves in their local, regional and also international environment. Thus it is now possible for universities and other academic institutions to create ‘poles of research and higher education’ (PRES), which can lead to the merging of partner institutions, as has been the case in Strasbourg.

In parallel with the LRU, large-scale projects have been launched to provide institutions with the means to succeed, for instance the plan licence, which helps undergraduate students to obtain their degrees, and the opération Campus, a project which aims to upgrade university buildings and allows the funding of 12 campuses linking universities and Grandes Écoles, selected on the basis of their scientific and pedagogical ambitions, thereby allowing them to strengthen their international attractiveness and to offer better services to their students.

It must also be pointed out that a quality assurance procedure has been put in place, with the creation in 2007 of the Agency for the (p.206) Evaluation of Higher Education and Research (Agence d'Évaluation de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, AERES), whose mission is to evaluate institutions and organisations, research units, and higher education courses and degrees.

We have here, as you can see, not just a simple reform, but a genuine re-foundation of French universities and, beyond this, a reconfiguration of the whole French higher education and research system, which will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the involvement of our institutions on the international stage: the autonomy status, which 51 universities have already claimed, will now allow them to design their own international policies, and to secure the means for their implementation, whether to enhance their attraction, or to create partnerships with institutions in other countries.

It is in this context of mutation that we need to plan cooperation between French and British universities. This cooperation is exemplary. The present state of Franco-British cooperation is shown by the large number of links between French and British universities, the numerous partnerships in education as in research, the high mobility of researchers between France and the United Kingdom, and the development of joint PhDs. But beyond the intensity of the relationships, one must draw attention to the unique quality of this cooperation. Taking its cues from trusting relationships developed over the years, based on the mutual interests of partners, this cooperation is pragmatic and uses as its driving force the initiatives from institutions which, in both countries, have recognised that it is vitally important to establish collaboration in scientific research at the highest level.

Beyond the differences between our two higher education and research systems, which still remain, in spite of the harmonisation processes put in place at the European level, it is indeed the mutually recognised excellence of teaching and research, and the convergence of scientific objectives, that must drive the aspirations for closer links between institutions in both countries. It is on this basis that networks have been built involving some of the most prestigious institutions on both sides of the Channel, the strategic interest of which is obvious.

I also wish to evoke another important aspect of bilateral cooperation which is for France a top priority, namely student mobility. Student mobility between France and the United Kingdom is very unbalanced, as over 13,000 French students are enrolled in British institutions while only 2500 British students study in France. Though the language barrier is the main reason for this imbalance, other factors may be at work, for instance access to and the quality of information on courses offered, as well as the material conditions of student life. On all these aspects, there is probably room for improvement. The creation of binational courses, like dual diplomas, is a useful tool to promote mobility; the development of programmes of this type during the past years is very encouraging.

(p.207) We can see that the evolution triggered by the Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche for the past two years cannot but favour the development of a very dynamic Franco-British cooperation. French universities have taken a decisive step which should draw them nearer to their British counterparts, which already have a long and successful experience of autonomy and responsibility. For this reason, I think it is especially important to continue the dialogue already existing between organisations representing French and British institutions. We are both faced with the same problems, arising from the overall expansion and globalisation of higher education, and must find solutions together.

I thank the French Embassy in the United Kingdom, the Franco-British Council and Times Higher Education for the organisation of this seminar. I hope that it is a success and that it opens new avenues for an ever more creative and cordial cooperation between the institutions of our two countries.