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English In All The World's Classrooms? Just Say 'Non!'

European universities are a bastion of original thinking, but as more and more gets taught and learned in the English-language, conformism is bound to spread.

Look, silence, wink, salute
Look, silence, wink, salute
Marc Chesney

-OpEd-

ZURICH — The ongoing debate about the heavy influence of the English language in our education system is mostly focused on primary and high schools. But within many Swiss universities — in economics, finance and management — the utter domination of English has in fact become the norm in master's degree and PhD courses. The same goes for publications and faculty reunions.

There is a process of excluding national languages at the higher education level. And it's not limited to Switzerland. It affects the whole of continental Europe. It's a choice that doesn't make the headlines, and yet it's not a neutral one. It's a strategic one, and it will have serious consequences.

The first is homogenization of teaching and thinking. Having a single unique teaching language goes hand in hand with pensée unique, or mainstream, comformist thinking. And as the last financial crisis demonstrated, one-track deliberation is dangerous.

What's more, the argument that suggests this intensive use of English boosts student exchanges is a double-edged one. Student interest in spending a semester abroad will indeed be limited if the language and the books the students use are the same everywhere. The global challenges we face today should, on the contrary, encourage students to adapt to various environments, to understand them and to be able to communicate with the local actors.

The second consequence has to do with the waning influence of national languages. Foreign students who come to Switzerland to study for their master’s degrees or PhDs are not encouraged to learn our languages — French, in this case. In fact, they are rather dissuaded from doing so, the priority being to focus on their studies and perhaps then go to an English-speaking country to polish their knowledge, rarely of Shakespeare's language but rather of a tasteless technical idiom.

This policy is wrong. First of all, it would be useful for these students to better understand the country in which they are staying, and second, it translates into a loss of income for language schools and local businesses — and, ultimately, for the Swiss economy.

The third consequence of this linguistic choice is the resulting follower strategy adopted by continental Europe's universities. This homogenization encourages students going abroad to continue their studies in the United States or in Britain, instead of going to a non-English-speaking country.

C'est pas bien

The end result is bad for European universities, and French-speaking ones in particular. When they contribute to the idea that their American sisters are the model, they often wind up recruiting students who wished to enter one of these U.S. institutions but saw their applications rejected.

Those who study in Switzerland, or more generally in continental Europe, will implicitly learn that the real model is elsewhere, namely in London or New York. This is an unfortunate conclusion, given the origins of the financial crisis, and these students will think that learning the local customs and culture, its riches and its nuances, is irrelevant.


At France's University of Nantes, listening clearly (Photo - Manuel)

This follower strategy, which prevails in economy, finance and management courses and also exists in other domains, naturally has consequences for international rankings too. According to the 2014 Shanghai Ranking, 16 of the best 20 universities are American, three British and finally one, the 19th, is Swiss.

How can we explain such a domination? To be sure, certain American universities, such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT, deserve their ranking. But these results nonetheless seem exaggerated when compared to what the American economy represents, which is about 22% of the world economy. Furthermore, the fact that not a single university from Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Japan or France is in the top 20 is surprizing.

The criteria are biased to favor British and American universities. Strangely, cultural diversity is not taken into consideration. So continental European countries are engaged in a race they have already lost.

But there is an alternative that is both possible and desirable.

With enough political will, a different strategy based on the following characteristics could be created. First, foreign students who don't speak the national languages should be encouraged to learn them during their stay. Second, we should go back to using the national languages in master's degree and PhD courses and make sure this is also the case for bachelor degrees.

Of course, the English language must play an important role, but not to the detriment of our own languages. Similarly, more books written in French, German and Italian should be used in classes, and more diversity should be allowed in the teachings, especially in economy courses. Finally, we should create international university ranking systems that value cultural diversity and take into account the capacity to teach and learn different languages.

*Marc Chesney teaches finance at the University of Zurich.

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Economy

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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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