France--English as Language of Global Education

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Apr 12 10:47:09 UTC 2007

April 11, 2007
English as Language of Global Education

PARIS, April 7 — When economics students returned this winter to the elite École
Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the
corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language. “We
understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where
the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones.
But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach
standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.
In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace
as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top
business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the
teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more
international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in
international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to
include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the
undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30
percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea
University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately
was not re-elected to his post in December. In Madrid, business students can
take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and
enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the
same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering
English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are
taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at
universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs
at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the
Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading
business schools that is based in McLean, Va. “We are shifting to English. Why?”
said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business
school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows
students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students —
the French ones — to go everywhere.” This year the university is celebrating
its 100th anniversary in its adopted tongue. Its new publicity film debuted in
English and French. Along one of the main roads leading into Paris loomed a
giant blue billboard boasting of the anniversary in French and, in smaller
letters, in English. Essec has also taken advantage of the increased revenue
that foreign students — English-speaking ones — can bring in. Its population of
foreign students has leapt by 38 percent in four years, to 909 today out of a
student body of 3,700.

The tuition for a two-year master’s degree in business administration is 19,800
euros for European Union citizens, and 34,000 euros for non-EU citizens. “The
French market for local students is not unlimited,” said Christophe N.
Bredillet, the associate dean for the Lille School of Management’s M.B.A. and
postgraduate programs. “Revenue is very important, and in order to provide good
services, we need to cover our expenses for the library and research journals.
We need to cover all these things with a bigger number of students so it’s
quite important to attract international students.”

With the jump in foreign students, Essec now offers 25 percent of its 200
courses in English. Its ambition is to accelerate the English offerings to 50
percent in the next three years. Santiago Iñiguez de Ozoño, dean of the
Instituto de Empresa, argues that the trend is a natural consequence of
globalization, with English functioning as Latin did in the 13th century as the
lingua franca most used by universities. “English is being adapted as a working
language, but it’s not Oxford English,” he said. “It’s a language that most
stakeholders speak.” He carries out conversation on a blog,, in

But getting students to feel comfortable speaking English in the classroom is
easier said than done. When younger French students at Essec start a required
course in organizational analysis, the atmosphere is marked by long,
uncomfortable silences, said Alan Jenkins, a management professor and academic
director of the executive M.B.A. program. “They are very good on written tasks,
but there’s a lot of reticence on oral communication and talking with the
teacher,” Dr. Jenkins said, adding that he used role-playing to encourage
students to speak. He also refuses to speak in French. “I have to force myself
to say, ‘Can you give me that in English?’ ”

Officials at Ewha Womans University in Seoul are also aware that they face a
difficult task at the first stage of their Global 2010 project, which will
require new students to take four classes in English, two under the tutelage of
native English-speaking professors. The 120-year-old university has embarked on
a hiring spree to attract 50 foreign professors. At the beginning, “teaching
courses in English may have less efficiency or effectiveness in terms of
knowledge transfer than those courses taught in Korean,” said Anna Suh, program
manager for the university’s office of global affairs, who said that students
eventually see the benefits. “Our aim for this kind of program is to prepare
and equip our students to be global leaders in this new era of

The Lille management school is planning to open a satellite business school
program next fall in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where the working
language will also be in English. “Internationally, the competition is
everywhere,” Dr. Bredillet said. “For a master’s in management, I’m competing
with George Washington University. I’m competing with some programs in Germany,
Norway and the U.K. That’s why we’re delivering the curriculum in English.”

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