French lawmakers ok plan for more English at universities
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French academics protest in Paris over a planned government reform of higher education that includes a proposal to open up French universities to English language classes in fields like science and economics, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. AP PhotoFrance's lower house on Thursday approved a plan to introduce more courses in English at universities despite critics alleging it will undermine efforts to promote French.
A majority of lawmakers in the National Assembly approved the second article of a bill on higher education in a show-of-hands vote. The full bill is expected to be approved in the Assembly and the upper house Senate, where the ruling Socialists and their left-wing allies have majorities.
The vote followed two hours of heated debate, with lawmakers from the main right-wing opposition UMP saying the measure threatens France's identity.
"A people that speaks a foreign language more and more loses its identity piece by piece," UMP lawmaker Jacques Myard said.
But Socialist lawmaker Thierry Mandon called the controversy "a storm in a teacup" and accused opponents of having "a phobia of foreign students".
The measure, which would also introduce lessons in languages other than English, aims to increase the number of foreign students at universities from 12 percent of the total to 15 percent by 2020.
Critics say it will harm decades-long, zealous efforts to protect the French language, while supporters argue it will improve the employability of French youth and the attractiveness of the country's universities.
Several unions, public figures and the influential Academie Francaise, set up in 1635 and the official authority on the language, attacked the measure.
France has for decades zealously propagated the use of French both at home and abroad through cultural institutions and the French-speaking Francophonie bloc of nations.