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Article 2 of Fioraso’s law, three years later ?

Last Updated: 14 Apr 2017

In the spring of 2013 the somewhat technical debate had unleashed passions and made communication in the papers and in the press veer on to slippery grounds. It took place just a few months after another similar case : the passage of the Instituto Politecnico di Milano to the teaching of courses in « English only » starting from the Master’s degree. In France, the offensive was in the form of an article of the bill on Research and Higher Education which was supposed to abolish the restrictions of Toubon’s law opposed to the development of courses taught only in English.

The discussion soon became a new battle over Hernani, a new quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. The blows were sometimes low-level and the expression of opinions sometimes verged on abuse or insults. It was for or against English, the debate sliding into confusion and remaining without conclusion in a press at a loss to explain the facts while the parliamentary debate followed its course to reach a quite important result practically unknown today.

What was the the issue? Contrarily to what many people believed, it was in no way a question of knowing whether one should facilitate the use of foreign languages in Higher Education. This fact has been taken for granted for more than 50 years, since the first international courses were opened in France. At the European level, the classes known as EMILE were promoted, thanks to which non-linguistic subjects can be taught in a foreign language. As the teaching of foreign languages has never been harmful to the mother tongue (read Rabelais over again), everything was supposed to be alright. In fact NO, the question was to know whether one was going to allow, for the teaching of a whole course, that English would replace French in France, Italian in Italy and German in Germany. There was the real issue, and the arguments used by the advocates of this option were but a smoke screen.

The only thing was that the Parliament said « No » , with the support of Geneviève Fioraso, the Minister of Higher Education, probably convinced in the end by the arguments developed by some forty MP’s of her political party. While facilitating the resort to foreign languages, the Parliament simply imposed a limit of 50% of the total volume, the volume of teaching done in a foreign language for a same course and posed its requirements for the delivery of a diploma which requires a sufficient command of the French language.

In the meantime the procedure ran its course in Italy.

Academics and students of the Instituto Politecnico di Milano had the decision of the University authorities sentenced by the administrative Court of Lombardia. The University appealed but the Court of Appeal put forward the constitutionality of the decision and therefore left it to the Constitutional Court to judge, which the Court has just done. One will remember that according to the constitutional Court, the Italian university law could not justify the decision of the Instituto Politecnico di Milano and one will also remember the importance of the arguments developed by the Italian Court and emphasized by the Accademia della Crusca in their communiqué published on the site of the OEP. « The Court writes that the Italian language, because of its official character, and therefore of its primacy, is carrier of the culture and tradition immanent to the national community, guaranteed by article 9 of the Constitution. » The progressive and supranational integration of the systems and the weakening of national borders determined by globalization can endanger this function of the Italian language. Yet these phenomena cannot imprison  the Italian language in a position of marginalization : quite the opposite, the primacy of the Italian language is not only constitutionally indestructible, but it becomes even more decisive for the durability of the passing on of the historical heritage and the identity of the Republic, as well as for the guarantee of the preservation and the enhancing of Italian as a cultural property in itself.

The Court goes on and asserts that the « central, constitutional role necessary to the Italian language is something you acquire at school and in universities ». The objective of internationalization, according to the Court’s opinion « must be reached (…) without affecting the constitutional principles of the primacy of the Italian language, of equality in the access to Higher Education and of the academic freedom ». If one interpreted the measure which is the object of the present judgment allowing universities to organize an offer for a set of general courses which plans whole courses exclusively delivered in another language than Italian, including in sectors in which the very object of teaching requires it, one would then undoubtedly end up in an illegitimate sacrifice of these principles. The exclusive nature of the foreign language would ,in fact, fully and indistinctly exclude the official language of the Republic from the academic teaching of entire fields of knowledge. The legitimate goals of internationalization cannot reduce the Italian language, within the Italian University, to a marginal and subordinate position, by suppressing this function of conveyor of the history and identity of the national community, which is its own, as well as its intrinsic being of cultural patrimony to preserve and enhance. »

We must also take an interest in what has happened in France since the vote of the law on July 22nd, 2013. Well, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research displayed total passivity as to the implementation of the law. Although they should have told the Universities and Establishments of Higher Education how they were to integrate the implementation of the law in their application for their accreditation, nothing was done, which means that all the accreditations delivered, apparently none of them was published in the Bulletin Officiel de l’Education Nationale, are in fact virtually illegal. Many courses 100% in « English only »have kept opening since2013.

The number of courses, level Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree, taught totally in English was 634 in April 2013, 671 in May 2014, 778 in March 2015, 821 in October 2015, 927 in October 2016 and 951 in January 2017. In four years’time there were 317 more courses in « English only », that is to say 50% more. Of course, the sets of courses taught partially in English have developed more rapidly : from 161 in April 2013 to 315 in January 2017. ie 154 new courses, that is to say 95.7% more. But starting from lower, we are far short of the target. In relation to the whole, from 20.25% in April 2013, that is to say before Fioraso’s law, we reach 24.88% in January 2017. Obviously we have a situation of non-implementation of a legislative measure taken by the government.

Even worse, the French Ecole Polytechnique, one of the gems of Higher Education in France, complied with the standards of communication under ministerial pressure and launched new courses , Master’s level, 100% in English, which caused a real stir among the OEP members. We had the opportunity to meet the board of directors of the Ecole Polytechnique and have known since then that things are more complicated and that the Ecole Polytechnique, in spite of appearances, has not given up two centuries of History and remains faithful to its mission of public service.

Demonstrating the mainly venal character of the courses taught in « English only », showing the lack of intellectual productivity of this type of course and doing the foreign students and the host countries a disservice, understanding that for some smaller countries, aligning themselves with the dominant model i .e. the American model, is a substitute for rationality, showing that countries like France, Germany or Italy cannot submit to it, are the aspects of one and the same debate which cannot be developed here but are and will be developed elsewhere.

The main thing is that resistance gets organized. The Italian Constitutional Court has just sent us a potent message.

Let’s take time to think about it seriously, to measure the impact of the phenomena we are witnessing and let us keep on fighting. What we fight for is not second rate. Internationalization does not mean anglicization.

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