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FRANCE
Minister acts against Portuguese university interloper
Portugal’s private University Fernando Pessoa, or UFP, is planning to set up a second branch in France – despite a complaint filed last year by French Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso that installation of its first university centre in France was against the law.

The UFP’s first branch, the Centre Universitaire Fernando Pessoa, was set up last November at La Garde, near Toulon in the Var, southern France. It offers humanities and social science courses and, more controversially, health studies including dentistry and pharmacology at bachelor, masters and doctoral levels.

The university claims its Portuguese degrees are valid throughout the European Union – including in France which, unlike Portugal, exercises strict selection in health studies with an 85% failure rate at the end of the first year.

In recent years many failed French medical students have continued their studies by moving to other countries such as Belgium, Romania and Spain. Now the UFP at La Garde offers them an opportunity to do so on home soil – at a cost.

UFP charges between €7,500 and €9,500 a year, compared with French university charges of €181 for first-degree general medical studies and €250 for a masters.

In December Fioraso ordered the rector of the Nice académie, the regional education authority, to file a complaint with the public prosecutor of Toulon against UFP La Garde, on two grounds: improper use of the designation ‘university’, which is strictly defined in France and excludes private institutions; and lack of a preliminary agreement.

She told France Info radio in December that there had been “no authorisation to open” the institution. “The courses are not specified, the teachers’ programmes are not specified; they have no right to use the name ‘university’,” she said.

Meanwhile, Portuguese Secretary of State for Higher Education João Filipe Queir, interviewed in Le Monde in December, said UFP could not award Portuguese diplomas abroad. “This accreditation takes account of conditions and location of courses, the teaching body, facilities. So it is not transferable by a university from one country to another.”

But vice-president of the UFP centre, Bruno Ravaz, said the university was free to set up in France, and if there was a dispute with the government he would refer the case to the European Court of Justice on grounds of discrimination, reported France Info.

French medical students’ and dentists’ representatives have demanded closure of the UFP centre.

Damien Guillaud of the student dental surgeons’ union of Marseille said it was “appalling”, and that “France risks being flooded by practitioners who have bought their diploma”, reported France Info in December.

The CNSD confederation of dental surgeons said that at UFP “the selection of students is made on application and fees are as much as €9,500. This enrolment is totally opposed to the French public system of health education where accessibility is through competitive examination and where enrolment fees in dentistry vary between €180 and €500.

“It is unacceptable that some students can benefit from a favour which allows them to bypass a selective system that is formidable but open to all, with the only common element that they have enough financial power,” reported Réussite-ECN in December.

Second branch planned

But in February UFP announced plans to open a second French branch in Béziers, Hérault, also in the south, with the support of local senator and mayor Raymond Couderc.

Ravaz said: “Our success in Toulon made it necessary to enlarge our premises, but these are not easy to find so we had the idea of opening in a second town,” reported France Info.

It said 190 students were expected in the academic year starting in September, with capacity for 570 in the next three years. Courses on offer would be dentistry, speech therapy, physiotherapy, human sciences and architecture-town planning.

In a statement on 22 February, Fioraso confirmed that the rector of the Montpellier académie had ruled against the Béziers UFP branch. If its establishment went ahead she would report it to the state prosecutor, as she had done for La Garde.

She said the reasons for her decision were “to protect the interests of students who, confused after failing their first year of health studies, find themselves offered expensive and unauthorised education”, and “respect for the processes for application to open a study programme; when this concerns the health professions, these requirements are particularly essential”.

French dentistry students have called for demonstrations against UFP from 11 to 15 March, and dentists’ unions are expected to demonstrate on 15 March.

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