Choose France! Containment, Circulation and Postcolonial (Dis)Continuities in Transnational Education

Authors: Alice Bobée*, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Higher Education, Africa
Keywords: transnational higher education, mobilities, strategies; post-colonial, Africa, France
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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In a speech held at the University of Ouagadougou in 2017, the President Macron called on French universities to export their programs to francophone Africa. Not only universities but also French companies were encouraged to invest in Africa defined as the “priority of the French economic diplomacy” (Macron, 2017). This project was embedded within a larger national strategy called ‘Choose France’ which aims at increasing French economic influence and soft power via, on the one hand, incoming foreign investments and selected ‘international’ students and, on the other hand, the expansion of French academic and economic activities across national borders, notably to Africa. In this paper, we critically investigate the notion of ‘containment’ and local embeddedness associated to the export of French offshore campuses to North and West Africa. Embedded within postcolonial notions of development aid, it is assumed that French institutions overseas would train Africans in Africa, reinforcing thereby local economic developments while avoiding ‘brain drain’. Interviews with French transnational education managers reveal however a different story. In particular, we observe a shift in thinking and strategies from one that envisions offshore campuses in francophone Africa as places of local embeddedness and containment to one in which the promise of geographical mobilities now lie at the basis of value-propositions. In an increasingly marketized environment, privately-run offshore campuses are not simply executing French political projects but act largely in response to ‘consumer’ demands of African students, which are segmented along existing social and geographical (im)mobilities.

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