French forge university governance, research partnerships

The global French-speaking universities' association, Agence universitaire de la Francophonie or AUF, has forged new partnerships that will boost higher education in Africa – with Cameroon to improve university governance, and with the French Research Institute for Development to support research masters and projects in Africa.

The AUF, which has an annual budget of over €40 million (US$45 million) and is funded by France, Canada, Canada-Quebec, the French Community of Belgium, Switzerland and Cameroon, was founded in 1961 in Montreal. It has nearly 800 higher education and research institutions in 100 countries as members.

The association signed a partnership agreement with Cameroon that aims to strengthen and standardise university governance.

Through the Francophone Institute for University Governance, the AUF will provide experts to contribute towards designing uniform governance standards in Cameroonian institutions.

The two organisations will jointly host seminars for university officials and Cameroon’s higher education ministry. The AUF will also facilitate the introduction of various thematic studies on behalf of the ministry.

AUF head Professor Jean-Paul Gaudemar signed the agreement with Professor Jacques Fame Ndongo, Cameroon's minister of higher education, on 10 May.

Gaudemar said in a statement that the agreement would accelerate the modernisation of Cameroon's universities in the field of evaluation, in the development of digital education, and other areas that will enable Cameroonian universities to meet major challenges.

Boost for research and innovation

Also in May, the organisation signed an agreement in Marseilles with the French Research Institute for Development to support the creation of research masters and innovative research initiatives in Africa.

The agreement will see the development and dissemination of digital educational content while establishing a dissemination culture, and nurturing science and innovation.

An AUF statement said the agreement bolsters the joint action of the two institutions in the development of education, research and innovation in Francophone countries.

It is a follow-up to the first partnership agreement signed by the two institutions in 2014 to support research in Central Africa. The cooperation with higher education and research institutions is to include the participation of French companies.

According to the AUF, all work is geared towards addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Researchers will tackle themes of common interest in health, land, environment, biodiversity, food security and nutrition, identity and territory sciences data, transition to renewable energy, and the socio-economic impact of globalisation.

Status of French in the Maghreb

Meanwhile, a group of experts has this month released an inventory of French in the Maghreb region over the period 2000 to 2015. The study, French in Maghreb Higher Education, highlights the poor grasp of French by students who enter the university in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and provides a plan of action to address this weakness.

The study blames the decline in French fluency on the decline in quality training and the opportunity for students to consider further study abroad.

The three Maghreb countries under review share common histories, cultures and languages. They also share Arabic as a unifying language and make use of French as a repertoire for communication and as a social marker.

The revision of training curricula is proposed, as is an improvement in the quality of teaching in French in Maghreb higher education. The three-country study notes the need for a language policy that promotes a sustainable balance between linguistic justice and the mastering of foreign languages.