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English in Colleges Roils French Parliament
May 23, 2013

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The French Parliament is debating a bill that seeks to introduce English-language courses at the country's public universities.

The bill, which has already generated fierce debate inside the walls of Parliament and out, is part of a larger reform package for France's higher education system. The package has been touted by Higher Education Minister Genevieve Fioraso as boosting the appeal of French universities at a time when enrollments are dropping.

Critics of the bill fear that allowing English into higher education instruction will further what they see as an encroachment of France's unique cultural identity. That belief, which has many powerful adherents in the country, led to the 1994 law mandating that French and only French be spoken as a teaching language at public universities. A similar restriction is on all TV broadcasts; as a result, all foreign-language TV programs are dubbed. In addition, radio stations are under strict order to have French music make up at least 40 percent of their playlists for the majority of the waking hours.

Suporters of the bill say that it will help French students gain a firmer footing when they travel overseas. Already, London has the sixth-largest French population in the world. A recent survey of the world's largest countries ranked France 23rd in terms of English proficiency.

Supporters also point to one clear exception to the French-only TV restriction: France 24, an international news network that broadcasts in Arabic and English, as well as in French. The network, started by former Presidnet Jacques Chirac in 2006, is wholly owned by the French Government.

The debate is expected to continue for some time.

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