FRANCE: 'More students could turn from UK to US'

The planned UK reforms will restrict direct enrolment in English universities to the most privileged French students, as in the US, a French student leader has warned. It could turn more French students towards the US.

Quentin Deforge, Vice-president of FAGE (Féderation des Associations Générales Étudiantes), with responsibility for international matters, said most French students in England went under European exchange programmes or under bilateral agreements. But for students who enrolled directly, without a particular programme, the impact would be "very negative".

"Fees being very low in France, students were already limited regarding going to study in England, but if the increase is of the same order for foreign students the English universities will only be accessible to the most privileged students, as is the case in the US," he said.

"We shall see an exodus of the majority of French students. There will only remain the most privileged students or those at the best universities who reckon it's worth borrowing to finance their studies."

Deforge does not think the rise in fees will cause a significant reverse flow of English or other EU students to France, because of the language issue.

"I think [the flow to France] will be light because few of the European students concerned have a level of French that is sufficient to study in France, where courses in English are unfortunately very marginal."

He said he thought that with a tripling of the fee cap students would turn more towards the US which offers the same expectations about learning the English language and university excellence.

"The budget [for foreign students] will from now on be the same in the two countries, and in these conditions students will prefer the US."

He hopes that exchange programmes such as Erasmus will benefit. "I am pretty sure that will be the case for Erasmus Mundus. European countries offering courses in English will also be privileged."

Deforge said the UK government's decisions to slash higher education funding and triple the tuition fee cap were shameful, as education should be considered a public good and the trend should be towards providing free education.

"This increase will increase discrimination and reduce opportunities for the poorest. It is not normal to have to take [paid] work to finance one's studies, nor to have to risk being in debt. Also, we know very well that with only these opportunities the poorest students, quite simply, will not be able to study."

In France universities are practically free, but the law now allows some fee increases. So some institutions, such as Paris Dauphine, can charge fees of several thousand euros.

"The consequence is that students must get into debt or, for the luckiest, be helped by their parents," Deforge said. "If this increase were general, the French system of education would be dead, and education would no longer fulfill its mission of promoting opportunity."