Francophone higher education pledges digital cooperation

French-speaking higher education ministers and other representatives from more than 40 countries* have agreed to cooperate in developing a global digital francophone university area, including a common website for sharing and distribution of common resources.

Members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, or OIF, a Paris-based organisation of 77 French-speaking countries and governments, said they undertook to encourage reciprocal knowledge, circulation and free use of digital university resources between their higher education institutions.

They signed the declaration at the conclusion of a conference organised in Paris by the French government and the OIF with support from the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or AUF, on 5 June.

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

Its Formation ouverte et à distance, or FOAD, system offers more than 80 open and distance education courses at bachelor and masters levels, which students can access through its network of 74 digital campuses in 44 countries.

According to the French education ministry, French is the language of education in 32 states, for 75 million pupils and students, of whom 53 million are in Africa. French is the second foreign language taught after English, with 125 million pupils and students and half a million French teachers outside France.

Paris conference

Preparations for this month’s meeting were made by multinational groups of experts during the preceding months, and at a preliminary conference last December. It was opened by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French minister for education, higher education and research, and Annick Girardin, state secretary for development and francophone countries.

The participants, who included 32 ministers of higher education, discussed questions in four main areas:
  • • What is the present state of digital resources in the French-speaking university world? What are the new needs, notably for universities regarding economic, social and territorial development? How best to share existing resources?
  • • How can digitisation, through new educational models, help higher education establishments to respond better to course requirements, to the characteristics of new generations of students and their success and professional employment, and more generally to the improvement of the quality of higher education? How to share expertise to make the best progress possible within the francophone area? What training do teachers need, and how should it be set up? What kinds of institutional validation should be introduced?
  • • How to make digital resources accessible to students and teachers? How best to identify the material needs of each country, such as premises and equipment?
  • • How to identify and find the necessary financial resources?
In their final declaration the participants agreed that those countries and institutions that wanted to could set up a common French-language website to make available digital university resources. The AUF would appoint a group of experts in the countries concerned to establish the site’s specifications and how to create it.

Ministers would encourage sharing of experiences and projects for renewing educational models that the new digital tools make possible, and the website could be used for distributing and sharing these.

Ministers would promote initiatives regarding methods of validation, such as certification and graduation, for digital distance courses.

Lastly, ministers would encourage identification of specialists in university digitisation within the French-speaking community, making the pool of expertise as widely known as possible, together with the conditions on which each country could call on them.

And ministers would work together to provide facilities, especially collective ones, compatible with “ambitious digital development in the francophone university area”. While this would be mainly for educational purposes, digital development could also contribute to improvement and modernisation of the management of higher education institutions.

The ministers and representatives agreed to hold a further meeting in 2016 to review progress.

*Countries and regions represented at the conference were: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Armenia, Belgium (Wallonia), Benin, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada (New Brunswick), Canada (Quebec), Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Laos, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Niger, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Union of the Comoros, Vietnam.