FRANCE: Digital leap forward for universities

France is launching a EUR16 million (US$23 million) 'digitised university' programme to install wireless internet connections and develop podcasting for online courses throughout the university system.

The initiative is in response to a report last year that said French universities urgently needed to catch up with information and communication technologies if they were to satisfy the higher education demands of the new generation of 'digitally native' students (University World News, 10 August 2008).

Announcing the plan last week Valérie Pécresse, Minister for Higher Education and Research, said it represented a "leap forward" that would "transform the universities into high-tech places".

Under the programme, EUR10 million will be spent doubling the number of wifi terminals by December, to provide free, high-speed internet access on all campuses in communal areas such as libraries, classrooms, canteens and lobbies.

Podcasts for online courses will account for the remaining EUR6 million, with allocations to each of the 83 universities for equipping lecture halls and classrooms, and training teachers.

Pécresse said the aim was to increase the proportion of podcast courses from 2% now to 10% in a year. At least 2,000 teachers would be trained to record courses online for all disciplines and all study levels.

The ministry will also set up a support system to deal with legal and technical questions and for exchanges of good practice.

The plan follows last year's report L'université numérique (The Digital University) by Henri Isaac, a lecturer at Paris-Dauphine University. Pécresse had commissioned the report noting: "In the context of globalisation of higher education it appears that France shows a certain delay compared with other western countries in the access it provides to online courses and in offering distance education.

"At the very time when mastering information and communication technologies seems increasingly to be an element of a nation's competitiveness, this delay in the digitisation of higher studies risks impeding France's development in coming years."

Isaac found that French universities were lagging seriously behind the upcoming "digitally native" generation of students who had been "born into their environment with video games, portable games, online games with multiple players, mobile phones, mp3 players, high-speed internet, instant messages...".

Only a few universities had developed "high performance digital work environments", he said, and the university system needed to go much further and remove obstacles to digital development.

I am also a teacher. This is really good information for the students. I hope it will be popular in the future.