Supersizing on the Seine

May 13, 2005

Paris. The American University of Paris, the oldest US institution of higher education in Europe, is to launch its first masters programmes and is planning a big increase in student enrolments.

"We're still a small university, but with all the developments taking place in Europe - the introduction of the Bologna Process and the opening-up of French institutions - the university landscape is changing. We aim to become a university of the avant-garde, the best English-language university in continental Europe," said Gerardo della Paolera, who became the AUP's first non-US president in 2002.

The AUP introduced two masters programmes this spring - an MSc in finance; and, in partnership with the Institut Catholique de Paris, a bilingual MA in international relations focused on conflict resolution and civil society. Masters in international communications, public policy and regionally focused international relations are in the pipeline, with the first due to start in 2006.

The AUP aims to increase student numbers from 900 to more than 1,500 on programmes that follow the US system in combining multidisciplinary general, elective and specialist studies.

Classes are small - about 20 students - and courses involve much student interactivity, group work and student-teacher contact. All this is unlike French university life, where lecture halls are crowded with hundreds of students and theoretical, narrowly focused courses are the norm.

The AUP, which opened in 1962, takes students of 93 nationalities - 38 per cent are from the US, 37 per cent from Europe, including 12 per cent from France. It operates on six sites in Paris near the Eiffel Tower and the Seine on an annual budget of E18 million (£12.3 million).

Drawbacks, say students, are annual fees of E20,000 - though social and merit grants are available - and local unawareness about their qualifications.

"If you're after a job, the American diploma is not known in Europe like those of Paris universities or engineering schools," said Ralph Hamamji, a Syrian studying finance and computer science. "It's hard looking for work in France or Europe - but I would do my studies here again."

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