Quality labels are not an end in themselves
“In the past, higher education institutions have been slow to turn to quality labelling tools, sometimes perceived as too directly related to the business world”
This month, Qualité FLE, the French government’s accreditation mark celebrates its tenth anniversary. Bruno Marty from the International Centre for Pedagogical Studies (CIEP) – which was established by the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research to enhance education cooperation, promote the French language and foster international mobility – reflects on how attitudes in higher education have changed towards the label.
Over the last decade, the Qualité FLE label has made it possible to recognise and promote education centres whose language programmes and related services present quality guarantees. This quality assurance process helps the public, diplomatic posts and other prescribers to identify a reliable supply of French classes, depending on the application needs of the public and on students’ profiles.
Qualité FLE focuses on language teaching – it is only available to schools that teach at least 2,400 hours of French a year – but it’s not only limited to language schools.
It also extends to higher education institutions, but these institutions have traditionally been slow to turn to quality labelling tools, which are sometimes perceived as too directly related to the business world.
However, there has been real evolution in recent years.
“The label makes it possible to recognise and promote education centres whose language programmes and related services present quality guarantees”
Today, higher education institutions account for nearly a third of Qualité FLE-accredited institutions – and there is a real awareness that as this number grows, the capacity of each institution to make itself heard will grow too.
For HE providers, the stakes are high because, unlike other label holders, they are part of a “dual perspective of public service and training backed by research,” says Jean-François Balaudé, President of the University Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense.
For Jean-François Balaudé, labels are not “an end in themselves, but, for demanding communities seeking to deliver a high level of service, a means to have their expertise recognised”.
It makes sense that the growing acceptance of a quality label coincides with an increase in international student and faculty exchanges – which are now one of the other main priorities of higher education institutions. The question inevitably arises of the quality of teaching of languages and cultures in these structures, so obtaining a label can help to reassure students that they will benefit from high-quality courses in French language and civilisation.
Seen from China, the US, and especially Japan, the label can make all the difference. Olivier Bertrand, chairman of École Polytechnique’s Languages and Cultures department, credits the label, which the institution gained in 2014, with some of its success in attracting international students. Today, 20% of the institution’s students are international.
“That is a message that we send to all our partners around the world”
“For us, this label is a guarantee of excellence and a great showcase showing what we are doing in teaching the language and French culture,” he says.
“That is a message that we send to all our partners around the world: that – beyond scientific excellence – of ensuring education and facilities of high quality in the teaching of French.”
Higher education institutions have also come to understand the importance of this label in their development of university partnerships abroad. It guarantees foreign students a high quality reception and an upgrade in their French. French institutions have entirely grasped the difference made by the French Foreign Language Quality label in a very competitive landscape in terms of attracting the best students.
We’ll be reflecting on the last decade at out annual seminar on March 7, dedicated to quality assurance in teaching French as a foreign language. The day before (March 6), managers of Qualité FLE centres will be invited to a ceremony at the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs in Paris, which will focus on the promotion of linguistic tourism and on the appeal of France’s territories.