French MOOCs make their debut

In a bid for France to catch up with the global development of MOOCs – massive open online courses – and establish itself as the leading francophone provider in the field, Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso announced increased investment to promote the new French system as its first courses were launched this month.

Since the France Université Numérique, or FUN, site opened last October, 88,000 students, high school pupils, employees, job seekers and retired people have registered for the French MOOCs – also known as CLOMs, cours en ligne ouverts et massifs – which are free of charge.

France has been slow to join the MOOCs bandwagon, with only 3% of universities providing the courses, compared with 80% of US higher education institutions.

So far eight courses from seven higher education institutions have opened.

More will start during the next few weeks and in the spring a second wave of institutions will join the FUN including leading business school HEC, the universities of Strasbourg, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Paris-Sud, and the Écoles normales supérieures of Cachan and Lyon, which will offer MOOCs on digital education for trainee teachers.

The three most popular MOOCs are “From manager to leader”, provided by the CNAM (14,000 registrations); “Philosophy and ways of life – from Socrates to Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault”, from Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense (nearly 6,000); and “Global space” offered by Sciences Po Paris (more than 5,000).

Fioraso announced for 2014 an additional €8 million (US$11 million) on top of the €12 million initially budgeted to set up the MOOCs structure. She said €5 million would be devoted to professional education, and a €3 million bid for the ‘CréaMOOC’ project would be launched in coming months for financing equipment for campus video laboratories.

She said an early assessment showed “an international interest for French MOOCs” and she hoped to increase bilateral agreements with third countries.

Projects already underway included plans to internationalise the MOOCs, such as agreements to collaborate on their development with Mali, Tunisia, Haiti and Quebec, she said. Of the 88,000 registrations already made, 7% were from Africa and 5% from the Americas.

France has already signed a partnership with the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or AUF, to promote and develop French-language MOOCs to link ‘North’ and ‘South’ higher education institutions to create courses together, and to propose examination and certification processes based on those of the AUF’s 44 digital campuses.

Fioraso said MOOCs would be introduced this year on mathematics and biology, bringing together the French Academy of Sciences and African academics; and another course, on malaria, was planned between the universities of Bamako and Marseille.