The Covid-19 pandemic will have a huge impact on French Business Schools and there is a risk that some of them will not survive. Benoit Anger, Associate Dean for Corporate Development & Communication, provides an overview of their new challenges.
According to you, what major obstacles may threaten the attractiveness of French Higher Education?
Benoit Anger: Several French business schools and universities head a number of international rankings. However, the current crisis is likely to have a negative impact on the attractiveness of Business Schools in France .
I think there are 3 main challenges. Firstly, international student mobility will quite probably be an important factor in the coming months. Secondly, we will have to focus our efforts on high-potential geographical areas both within and beyond Europe. Finally, I am convinced that pedagogical innovation could provide a way out.
Why do you anticipate a reduction in international student mobility?
Benoit Anger: France lost ground in the latest figures published by Campus France in 2017. We have been overtaken by Australia and Germany since 2012 and fallen from 3rd to 5th place, despite a 5% increase in the number of international students studying in France.
It appears fairly obvious that the current crisis will have an effect on student mobility. Many questions remain unanswered: will the pandemic be under control by the start of the new academic year? Will international flights be allowed to resume? How can campuses accommodate students in accordance with current health measures? Although the application figures are encouraging, a drop in international recruitment seems inevitable. For example, Australian universities, which are dependent on international recruitment, particularly from Asia, are likely to experience a downturn.
The second challenge you mentioned refers to targeting high-potential areas. Can you explain in more detail?
Benoit Anger: To succeed in attracting a maximum number of students, France must be an attractive destination in those geographical areas where students have a high potential for mobility. As such, we have many long-standing and special relationships with partners in Africa and North Africa. But France must also focus its efforts on Asia.
China and India are the nations with enormous student mobility potential. A number of French Business Schools have seized this opportunity by opening offices in these two countries. However, nothing is certain at this stage. Although 47% of Indians, 27% of Taiwanese and 24% of Chinese consider studying in a French Business School a privilege*, the number of Chinese students coming to study in France has decreased by 6% over the last 5 years. Another figure indicates that India is only the 16th country of origin for students studying in France. This would appear somewhat strange given that over 330,000 Indians are studying abroad, according to the latest UNESCO figures and that the current geopolitical context (Brexit, the USA's restrictive policy on student visas...) ought to be an opportunity for majority of French institutions.
We need to work collectively and seek support from the government to ensure that French higher education can be revived on the international stage. The formalisation of agreements that facilitate educational synergies will be a valuable aid for Business Schools and Universities.
I am thinking of two agreements in particular that need to be reproduced and developed further: the Sino-French agreement between the French and Chinese Ministries of Higher Education, which is a mutual recognition of curriculums and diplomas for the purpose of pursuing higher education in either country. The slightly older agreement, signed in 2015, between France and India allowing Indian students to renew their visas and remain in France for 2 years beyond their studies is also worth highlighting.
You also mentioned pedagogical innovation as an asset for France. Could you develop this point?
Benoit Anger: The lockdown and campus closures due to the pandemic have forced a rapid transition to online education formats in many countries. The crisis has provided many institutions with an opportunity to try out new online resources. With a current generation of ultra-connected students, the capacity to innovate and offer alternative ways of teaching to the traditional face-to-face classroom environment could emerge as an important differentiating factor for schools and universities.
French institutions must strive to perform as well as possible. Competition to attract the most talented students on the academic front is fierce and although the quality of training on offer remains the students' most important choice factor, France must also draw on its 'soft power' to enhance its attractiveness. Collectively, we need a 'France brand' with international appeal. We therefore need to supply Campus France with the resources it needs to promote the excellence of French higher education around the world.