France warns US: hands off

December 3, 1999

PARIS French education minister Claude Allegre has criticised the United States for trying to foist its education system on Europe, which he warned could result in the privatisation of the service and uniformity of teaching.

In an interview published in

Le Monde during the run-up to this week's World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle, Mr Allegre denounced the "hegenomic willpower" of the US, which he said was seeking to set up American universities in Europe.

He claimed France had been excluded from an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting in Sweden that discussed the globalisation of higher education.

However, a Swedish spokeswoman said the French had

been invited to the meeting.

The minister also criticised a US proposal to include education among services covered by the WTO.

Mr Allegre, an eminent geophysicist who has worked in the US, where he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, said: "We are seeing the desire to privatise education.

I am strongly attached to a public education service. I would even say a public service with national characteristics, even if we are introducing European harmonisation."

Education was the foundation of the French Republic, he said, and "equality of opportunity for all is essential".

These are our cultural and historic benchmarks. An education made uniform would lead to a uniform world - 'one teaching, one thinking'," he added.

It was "absolutely desirable" that French students should

study abroad, he said, but "that the Americans should set up

universities worldwide, all on the same model with the same

programme, would be a catastrophe".

US sources described Mr Allegre's comments as "vague" and "rather negative". A number of US universities ran programmes in France but these taught French culture to American students, they said.

The education minister's remarks run counter to criticisms from French academics that his controversial higher education reforms will copy the US system. But Mr Allegre has consistently maintained that his policy is to conform to an eventual European model, based on degrees of three, five and eight-year post-baccalaureat study.

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