Geneviève Fioraso, French Minister of Higher Education, has announced €8 million of funding for online courses to allow France to “catch up” with other countries investing in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
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At present, only 3% of French universities offer online courses, compared with 80% in the US. The Ministry wants to promote the courses for job seekers and those already in work as well as for students.

“We are very late,” Fioraso said. “In the US, in the UK, MOOCs have been used for 15 years… This is a public investment to enlarge the influence of our universities and to improve the average level of knowledge of the whole population.”

The Ministry will make two investments, adding to the €12 million already allocated to MOOC development, Fioraso explained. Of the new funding, €5 million will help to finance the development of online vocational training, and €3 million will go towards video equipment for campuses as part of the ‘CréaMOOC’ project.

Since registration opened in October for France Université Numérique (FUN), the online training and education platform launched by the Ministry for Higher Education and Research, some 88,000 people have enrolled on 25 free courses. The biggest take-up was in Africa and the Americas, at 7% and 5% respectively.

Eight courses began in mid January on the FUN platform, with the rest rolling out throughout the year.

Using the government investment, French universities including HEC, the ENS Cachan, and Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne will create 30 new courses for the platform.

Business school HEC Paris has already launched two online courses on the MOOC platform Coursera which will begin teaching in two weeks’ time.

Vanessa Klein, Project Director, Innovation and Technology at HEC, told The PIE News that HEC’s aim in launching the online courses was “one of inclusion”.

“We hope that anyone, anywhere, regardless of educational background or current situation can benefit from our world-renowned teaching, and enjoy learning about very relevant and intriguing subject matter in their own time,” she said.

Klein added that the response to the Coursera MOOCs has been “very encouraging indeed”, with 30,000 signups so far.

The investment is part of France’s over all digital plan for higher education which was announced in October 2013, and outlined three key aims using digital technology: to facilitate every stage of students’ development in higher education; to leverage an overhaul of teaching methods and practices; and to boost the appeal of French universities.

To expand France’s influence in foreign higher education systems, the government has also partnered with the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), a university association founded to promote an international French-speaking academic community, to produce digital courses and develop a certification process.

France is joined by other governments who are eager to bankroll MOOC development. Earlier this month the Dutch Ministry of Education committed  €1 million of funding to online course development and the US State Department last year partnered with Coursera to promote US MOOCs at consulates and embassies in 30 countries.

Beckie Smith, The PIE News, Published Jan 29, 2014