In Search Of Foreign Students, French Universities Seduce With Their Scholarship

France’s universities have made major headway in attracting foreign students in recent years. But more needs to be done if the country’s top schools hope to score better on international rankings and draw more of the world’s best and brightest.

La Sorbonne's campus in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates
La Sorbonne's campus in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates
Jean-Claude Lewandowski

PARIS – Members of higher education's high society, a group that includes the minister of education, university presidents and even investors, have been putting their heads together of late in an effort to improve the international image of France's universities. Their goal – as unimaginable as it may have seemed just a couple of years ago – is to show that France's top schools can compete in the world market.

Admittedly, the universities don't exactly shine in international rankings. In the Shanghai rankings, Paris-Sud, the highest ranking French institution, was 40th on the international list. Part of that is because of the extremely decentralized nature of French higher education – the system is split up between 85 universities and 220 grandes écoles – and the organization of research institutes.

However, when it comes to increasing their attractiveness, French Universities have made substantial progress. Currently they receive more than 280,000 foreign students per year (more than half of whom are in master's or doctorate programs). France has the third largest number of foreign students worldwide, behind only the United States and the UK. And more and more courses are offered in English.

"Promotion of the French language has given way to courses in English," Louis Vogel, the president of the conferences of University presidents, noted during an event last week called "Discovering French Universities," which brought together many of France's higher education policy makers.

Some institutions, following the example set by the grandes écoles, have started to open overseas campuses. Dauphine has a campus in Tunis, the Sorbonne has a campus in Abu Dhabi and Panthéon-Assas has a law school in Singapore.

A Better Welcome

Above all, educational reforms first implemented in 2007, including changes to the French equivalent of the bachelor's degree and the creation of a research and teaching center, have begun to bear fruit. Universities have become more active and self-confident. The launch of various different foundations has also increased motivation in the higher education sector, even if universities are not rolling in dough.

"Between 2009 and 2011, the expenditures per student have decreased slightly," said Yannick Lung, president of Bordeaux-IV. In 2009, the average expenditure per student was 10,220 euros.

There's still a major obstacle to overcome: the physical reception of international students. Several French campuses, including the Cité Universitaire in Paris, offer acceptable accommodations for students. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Even more worrying is that the international campaign happens to coincide with a recommendation from the interior minister that would prevent foreign students from starting their careers in France. The financial requirements for students wishing to study in France have also become more stringent, a change that university presidents, the grand écoles and business groups all opposed. "It discourages students from coming," stressed Louis Vogel. "You have to have a long-term vision."

Even in this regard, though, things are getting better. Most universities have an office dedicated to foreign students. La Rochelle, for example, has a number of master's students from Asia. "We offer them everything they need to succeed," assures Fernando Pedraza Diaz, vice-president of international actions.

In Strasbourg and Lille, Erasmus students are hosted in families over the weekend. Many sites offer international students special streamlined services to make things as easy as possible. Indeed, there are many signs that the universities are trying to get ahead. Speaking to reporters during the Discovering French Universities event in Paris, politician Laurent Wauqiuez summed things up nicely – in English. "French university is back."

Read the original article in French

Photo – Panoramas

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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