'Lax' medical courses draw threat of legal action

French concerned by lack of entrance requirements at private institution. Clea Caulcutt reports

January 31, 2013

Source: Getty

Small bites: entry to dentistry courses is very restricted in France

A row has erupted in French higher education over a privately funded university that is facing legal action from the government.

Université Fernando Pessoa, an institution based in the town of Toulon, has only several dozen students, but it is causing a stir in the education establishment.

The university, backed by French and Portuguese investors, opened in November and offers courses including dentistry, speech therapy and pharmacy that lead to Portuguese diplomas. In France, such health studies are particularly selective. Only a limited number of university students who pass competitive exams in their first year are allowed to go on to train as doctors, dentists or chemists. In speech therapy studies, only 5 per cent of first-year applicants pass the entry exams.

However, Université Fernando Pessoa allows students to pursue their ambitions for an annual fee of between €7,500 (£6,360) and €9,500 without having to pass such exams.

Jacques Lachamp, the head of its pharmacy department, said the new university compensates for medical shortcomings in France. “The French state doesn’t train enough health professionals, and many students who fail their entrance exams go to Belgium or Romania to get their diplomas,” Dr Lachamp said.

But the Paris Association of Students in Speech Therapy said the institution gives weaker students the means to bypass crucial university exams. “[Having to pass] the speech therapy entrance exams [ensures] crucial foundation skills and knowledge,” said Chloe Daigmorte, the association’s president. “If students fail, maybe it’s because they aren’t capable of pursuing the challenging courses they are applying for.”

One of the harshest reactions has come from the French government, which is seeking legal action against the university. In a press statement, Geneviève Fioraso, minister of higher education and research, says she is “concerned about the quality of teaching and the level of relevant infrastructure at Fernando Pessoa”. The ministry also alleges that paperwork to open the institution was unsatisfactory and that the term “university” had been misused.

The institution dismisses the allegations.

Salvato Trigo, dean of Universidade Fernando Pessoa - a Portuguese institution affiliated with the Toulon university - said France’s reaction showed “xenophobic” motivations.

On Portuguese radio station TSF, he said that “a lot of France still thinks Portugal is a country of immigrants, masons and Paris slum-dwellers from the 1960s and 1970s”.

Dr Lachamp added that French health officials were shunning healthy competition from abroad. “I knew the establishment would react strongly, but I didn’t expect the reaction to be this violent.”

Jean-Loup Salzmann, president of the French Rectors’ Conference, said accusations of xenophobia showed that the university’s managers might be “clutching at straws”.

“In France, we have a very open, international view of higher education,” said Professor Salzmann. “Our country has welcomed many foreign universities, such as Georgia Tech Lorraine [in Metz] or the American University of Paris. We are not against this university because it is Portuguese, but because it does not respect the rules regulating medical studies.”

There are also concerns that the students who obtain Portuguese qualifications at Université Fernando Pessoa will not be able to practise in France.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show