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Foreign students to pay full fees for higher education?
Most foreign students from outside the European Union should pay full tuition fees, and these resources – estimated at €850 million (US$940 million) – should be invested to ensure France can adapt to the new challenges of internationalising higher education while offering a fair, high-quality, attractive system, says a new report.

The report, Investir dans l’Internationalisation de l’Enseignement SupérieurInvesting in the Internationalisation of Higher Education – is by Nicolas Charles and Quentin Delpech of France Stratégie, a strategic and consultative unit attached to the Prime Minister’s office.

Charles and Delpech say that France must overcome problems, including inadequate resources, to maintain its market share in an increasingly competitive global environment. That includes a continuing rise in the number of students studying abroad and the evolving internationalisation of higher education with more cross-border programmes and institutions, new curricula and technologies, and international research collaboration.

At present, all university students whether French, from the EU or from other countries, pay the same low registration fees in France. These are currently €184 (US$203) a year for the three-year licence (bachelor degree equivalent) course, €256 for a masters and €391 for a doctorate.

According to UNESCO, France was the third most popular host country for international students in 2012, after the US and the UK. France was then catering for 271,000 foreign students, which is 6.8% of mobile students, those studying in a country other than their own.

In the report’s foreword, Jean Pisani-Ferry, commissioner-general of France Stratégie, notes that the number of internationally mobile students has doubled from two million in 2000 to four million today, and could double again in the next 10 years.

There were fewer than 500 MOOCs – massive open online courses – in spring 2013 but more than 3,000 by the summer of 2014.

This “double transformation marked an upsurge in the process of internationalisation, and therefore of competition in a sector long organised on a practically exclusively national basis and, in France, mostly as a public service”, Pisani-Ferry says.

He sees the evolution as providing opportunities such as more international students from emerging countries, an advantage for France which has retained its scientific tradition. But there are also problems, such as increased competition from higher education ‘hubs’ in the Middle East and Asia, and the French public service ethos which means lack of resources.

Global trends

The report examines three global trends affecting higher education. These are:

Transnationalisation: Marked by the decreasing monopoly of developed countries in research and innovation, such as France and Britain, and increasing participation of emerging countries such as China and South Korea.

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of higher education students rose from about 100 million to 196 million, with nearly half of the growth in the four ‘BRIC’ countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. By 2025 the number studying abroad is likely to exceed 7.5 million. Meanwhile, the revolution in information and communication technologies offers new knowledge-sharing opportunities beyond borders.

Multipolarisation: Currently, the knowledge economy’s centre of gravity remains in the north, but while a quarter of articles published in scientific journals between 1996 and 2010 were written in the US, and more than half of international students choose Western Europe and North America for their studies abroad, a process of decentralisation is gaining ground with competitive higher education provision in Asia and the Middle East.

During the past decade, the growth in market share of international students by the BRICS countries has been double that of the traditional host countries – the US, UK, France, Germany and Australia.

Diversification: Major economic and demographic changes in both emerging and developed countries mean demand for knowledge is increasing and becoming more complex.

Mobility flows, student and programme exchanges, offshore campuses, and new education hubs harnessing regional demand are developments affecting southern countries. In developed countries, institutions are aiming to add a more international dimension to their courses.

In addition, mobility is no longer limited to individuals but extended to programmes and institutions themselves – the number of offshore campuses is expected to rise from 200 in 2011 to 280 by 2020; and knowledge is becoming more portable thanks to digital education, including MOOCs.

The French exception

France’s approach to the internationalisation of higher education has traditionally been based on influence and cooperation, says the report. It is characterised by a high proportion of foreign students from outside Europe – four-fifths of the total – and especially those of African origin who represented 43% in 2011, compared with less than 10% in other major host countries.

Another feature is its extensive non-tertiary education network throughout the world; more than half of the 320,000 pupils attending its primary and secondary schools are not French nationals, and thus spread French influence abroad.

While only 88 of 3,000 MOOCs are of French origin, 220 million people – 3% of the world’s population – speak French daily, representing a large market, says the report.

On the global downside, French higher education institutions do badly in international rankings, and its split system of universities-grandes écoles and universities- public research organisations are a source of fragmentation. There is a lack of trained staff and strategy within institutions to deal with internationalisation, says the report.

Aims for the future

Charles and Delpech say France must adopt an ambitious strategic approach based on clarifying and prioritising its aims for the internationalisation of higher education. Rather than focusing on numbers of foreign students, this should define the reasons why France wants to attract them.

The authors compare systems in other countries including Australia, the UK and Germany, and present four potential, sometimes overlapping objectives for France. These are:

  • To attract talented students and researchers to boost a qualified workforce;
  • To improve the quality of higher education;
  • To provide a source of export revenue for the economy and self-finance for higher education institutions; and
  • To be a strategic instrument for influence and cooperation in the developing world.

They conclude that France must combine educational quality with fairness: “France’s ambition would be to use internationalisation as a lever to improve the quality of higher education and research.

“However, the specific characteristics of the French system – the geographical integration of the incoming mobility flows, principally from Africa; its position as an outsider in the global market because of its language – speak in favour of combining quality with fairness.”

No decrease in public funding

The report says that promoting internationalisation is expensive and, in a tight budgetary situation, charging foreign students is often seen as a way to increase funding for higher education institutions because there is at present no differentiation in university fees no matter where students are from.

But while the writers support the principle of charging non-EU students with the full cost of their studies, except doctoral students who would be exempt, it specifies the fees “must be targeted and serve an ambitious investment plan for the quality of higher education and research”.

They estimate their proposed reform could raise about €850 million (US$940 million), calculated on 102,000 students paying an average €11,101 in annual tuition fees. But they stress that the extra finance should not lead to a cut in public funding.

“This pricing principle must not mean a corresponding decrease in public spending, but must serve one purpose: development of an inclusive internationalisation to enhance the quality of French higher education.”

This investment is crucial to countering the negative effects of introducing the charges, expected to lead to a fall in the present high proportion of non-EU students in the short and medium term, says the report.

Five year plan

The report puts forward a five-year reform plan to ensure fairness and quality, and to reinforce the attractiveness of France’s higher education under a full-fees system.

Measures for fairness entail a “significant readjustment of scholarship policies” in favour of disadvantaged students. The report suggests 30,000 additional grants could be provided in the form of tuition fee exemptions, targeting the French-speaking world, particularly Africa. The estimated cost would be about €440 million a year.

Because international students paying fees would have higher expectations, other services would need developing such as digital education and transnational education. The report estimates at least €1,000 for each international student would need to be allocated to implement such initiatives as French language classes and advice services for accommodation and employment. Such a system would cost about €280 million annually.

Three measures would be introduced to ensure attractiveness. The first would be a €50 million annual allocation to export French programmes and institutions abroad, together with a special unit to promote French transnational education with a €2.5 million budget.

Second would be development of digital education for the French-speaking world, with new funding of about €70 million a year. Third would be a policy to attract and recruit new foreign students, aimed at targeted countries, with the objective of France remaining the leading non-English language destination for international students. Funding for this would amount to €7.5 million a year.

An English-language summary of the report is given in the France Stratégie La Note d’Analyse No 23.

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