MOOC, gender support for French-language universities

The Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or AUF, has launched two higher education initiatives aimed at French-speaking African and other developing countries. They are to introduce massive open online courses, or MOOCs, in partnership with the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and to establish an ‘equality for women’ network to counter gender discrimination in universities.

The agency has also extended to Senegal a distance teacher-training venture to improve the skills of schoolteachers of, and in, French.

The AUF promotes higher education and research in French-speaking universities throughout the world. It has headquarters in Montreal in Quebec, Canada, and links 800 institutions in about 100 countries.

The projects were presented in November in Dakar, Senegal, at the 15th Summit of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, or OIF, a Paris-based association of 77 French-speaking countries.


During the summit the AUF and the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, signed an agreement to cooperate in the development of MOOCs in partnership with institutions in emerging countries.

Under the agreement the AUF and EPFL aim to improve access to online higher education, improve its quality and strengthen institutions’ educational capacities. According to the AUF they will:
  • • Develop new forms of collaboration for the production of MOOCs in partnership with universities in emerging countries.
  • • Develop training for MOOC tutors in regions of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Middle East.
  • • Devise a certification system for MOOCs so examinations can be organised through the agency’s network of campus numériques francophones – digital francophone campuses.
  • • Promote the broadcast of French-language courses, especially those of the AUF, EPFL and members of the Réseau d’Excellence des Sciences de l’Ingénieur de la Francophonie, or RESCIF.
EPFL has been developing MOOCs since 2012, and currently has 21 courses on offer, 13 of them in French. Some have been designed to cater for needs of emerging countries, such as those on town planning and healthcare systems.

Bernard Cerquiglini, AUF’s head, said: “MOOCs are truly complementary to transitional teaching, and represent a major challenge for the French-speaking university world, especially in the South where there are large numbers of students.

“This agreement with EPFL expresses our ambition for the development of this new pedagogic form of higher education in the institutions of the South, anxious to take part in this digital revolution currently underway.”

Equality for women

The AUF has created a French-language network of women working in higher education and research from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas to improve access to posts of responsibility for women academics.

According to the agency, even in countries where equality between women and men is accepted, the proportion of women in senior positions remains low – only 23% of professors in France, Canada, Belgium and Vietnam are women, and the situation for women in top posts such as university president or rector is worse; they ranked highest in Canada, at 19%.

The network was officially launched at a pre-OIF summit conference organised by the AUF in Dakar on ‘Women Academics, Influential Women?’ in favour of gender equality in higher education and research. It was attended by 200 participants from all over the world including women lecturers, researchers and senior managers, and women working in business.

The AUF said the event constituted a first step towards concrete action in favour of gender equality in higher education and research. Participants approved 10 recommendations, which were presented to heads of state during the OIF summit. These were to:
  • • Train political and public service managers in equality issues.
  • • Create departments of women-men equality in ministries of higher education and research.
  • • Set up observatories of gender equality in every university and appoint specialist staff.
  • • Provide training modules to support sex-equality awareness at all levels and in all disciplines.
  • • Legislate to ensure parity in senior posts at universities and research organisations.
  • • Finance research to produce scientific data on the situation of women in higher education and research.
  • • Coordinate all research projects with an ‘equality’ dimension.
  • • Create a directory of good practices on parity in universities.
  • • Universities to set up dedicated offices to prevent and fight against sexism and sexual violence, with punishment for all cases of sexual harassment.
The pre-OIF conference also called on the AUF to strengthen the French-language network of senior women in higher education and research; create a prize for women scientists; introduce a gender equality requirement in the AUF members’ charter; create a high quality French-language scientific publication; and set up an ‘equality’ label for universities.

Distance teacher training

AUF and the OIF jointly manage the Initiative francophone pour la formation à distance des maîtres, or IFADEM, to improve primary schoolteachers’ skills in teaching French, especially in rural areas.

After its pilot between 2008 and 2010 in Benin, Burundi, Haiti and Madagascar, it has been progressively extended to cover new subjects, regions and countries.

The latest is Senegal, following an agreement signed in November in Dakar between Senegal’s Education Minister Serigne Mbaye Thiam, OIF administrator Clément Duhaime and AUF’s Bernard Cerquiglini.

IFADEM offers in-service training partly online, adapted to the needs of the teachers and their work and living conditions.

In Senegal, 500 teachers will take part in IFADEM, for which they will be provided with digital tablets giving them access to resources such as dictionaries and course notes.