New academy will work to advance the scientific Francophonie
AIFS was inaugurated on 22 March at a ceremony by Professor Slim Khalbous, the rector of the Francophone University Agency (AUF), Professor Sorin Mihai Cimpeanu, the president of AUF, and the Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation of Morocco, Professor Abdellatif Miraoui.
AUF is a global association of 944 French-speaking higher education and research establishments in 116 countries. Its mission is to focus on advancing the French-speaking scientific space through various strategies, including scientific publications in French.
French in the scientific space
Besides focusing on promoting and supporting the publication of French-language content and supporting its discoverability, the new International Academy of Scientific Francophonie, or AIFS, will also focus on growing the scientific Francophonie, particularly among young people, teachers and researchers.
To achieve its aims, AIFS will have a Scientific Francophonie Observatory, dedicated to studies to improve the understanding of the transformation of the French-speaking educational and university space.
AIFS will also have a centre for scientific publications to strengthen the production and dissemination of knowledge in French and to promote the visibility of the research by French-speaking scientists.
AIFS will also have a unit for governance to support institutions with quality assurance in their work.
A lifeline for French as a scientific language?
Although the day-to-day usage of French as a communication medium appears to be growing, its use as a scientific language has been a concern.
According to a 2022 report, The French language in the world published by the French Language Observatory, French has grown, with 21 million new daily speakers over the past four years, reaching 321 million by 2022, 47.4% of daily speakers residing in Sub-Saharan Africa and 14.6% in the Maghreb and the Middle East, accounting for 62% of French speakers, primarily young people.
The report indicated that, if the rate of increase continues, there will be up to 750 million French speakers in the world in 2070, with 90% of young French speakers under the age of 30 on the African continent.
But Dr Abdennasser Naji, the president of the Amaquen Institute, an education think tank, told University World News the establishment of AIFS is a response to the “decline in the use of the French language in the scientific world”.
“The AUF, which brings together French-speaking universities, does not seem capable of facing the onslaught of English,” Naji said.
Several reports and studies have indicated the dominance of the English language in science and social research as well as its prevalence in academic publishing, including an 8 March 2023 conceptual analysis article entitled, ‘English linguistic neo-imperialism in the era of globalisation: A conceptual viewpoint’ and the 2021 study titled ‘Thinking in a foreign tongue: The problem of English language dominance in social research’.
According to Naji, the academy may be used to stop the hegemony of English in French-speaking African space, but it will have no impact in countries which seem decided to opt for English as the language of teaching science.
Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, Morocco, told University World News: “We are hoping that AIFS will stick to its initial aim which is to promote scientific research and development in the French-speaking world by bringing together leading scientists and researchers from different disciplines.
“Perhaps AIFS is a rescue ship which aims to promote the use of the French language in scientific research and development after seeing that English [is becoming a] dominant language in Morocco besides Arabic,” Benahnia said.
AIFS’ impact on universities
“In terms of its impact on higher education and scientific research development in Morocco, Africa, and the French-speaking world, AIFS can play a crucial role in promoting collaboration, the sharing of knowledge and resources and the development of new research projects,” said Benahnia.
“By bringing together scientists and researchers from different disciplines and countries, AIFS can help to create new research opportunities and facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise,” he indicated.
According to him, universities in the French-speaking world can also benefit from AIFS and AIFS in Morocco can provide universities with opportunities to showcase their research and innovation to a global audience.
“In my opinion, AIFS can have a significant impact on higher education and scientific research development in Morocco, Africa, and the French-speaking world, but there is no doubt that it will need to promote English communication skills development as well in order to stay updated as far as scientific data and information are concerned,” he said.
“By promoting collaboration and working on the English language skills of researchers in parallel, AIFS will head towards the true sharing of knowledge and resources,” said Benahnia.
He added that AIFS can contribute to the advancement of science and technology if it treats all participants equally, notwithstanding race and gender, and avoids “politicising its purpose”.