Oxford’s history with France goes back to the very first days of the University’s inception: although university-level teaching is known to have existed at Oxford in some form in 1096, the University of Oxford developed rapidly from 1167 onwards after English students were banned from attending the University of Paris by Henry II, the English King. Since then, academic links between them have grown and have, over the centuries, gone from strength to strength.
Ties between Oxford and France were greatly strengthened in the 1940s by the establishment of the Maison Française d'Oxford, which was set up with the aim of consolidating the links between the two sides of the Channel, in both academic and cultural terms. Today, the Maison Française is a unique and vibrant hub for international and interdisciplinary academic cooperation and research, with a number of Oxford faculty affiliated with the centre.
Oxford’s French department is the biggest in Britain, with over 30 permanent members of staff covering all areas of French literature and language and an intake of about 200 students a year, with an average of over 50 graduate students.
The quality and range of the department’s research has been recognised by recent research assessment exercises and the latest Research Excellence Framework in the UK.
In terms of the teaching it provides, French at Oxford has consistently ranked highly in national league tables. Academics in the department specialise in a wide range of fields, ranging from literature, art history, linguistics, and theory to history, film, and dance, and cover all historical periods.
The Voltaire Foundation
The Voltaire Foundation is a research department in the University of Oxford and a world leader for 18th-century and Enlightenment research and scholarship. Founded by the bequest of Theodore Besterman in the 1970s, its core mission was originally to research and publish the definitive, scholarly edition of the Complete Works of Voltaire (Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire).
Over the last 25 years, the Foundation has become the leading publisher of definitive critical editions of many prominent Enlightenment figures. It also produces Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (SVEC), the foremost series devoted to Enlightenment studies. The Foundation has attracted funding from the Mellon Foundation to develop Electronic Enlightenment, which uses cutting-edge technology to make correspondence of the most significant 18th-century figures fully searchable.
The Centre is currently led by Professor Nicholas Cronk who is Professor of French Literature, and Lecturer in the History of the Book at Oxford. The Foundation has received sponsorship from the British Academy, the Centre National du Livre (CNL), Domaine de Bélesbat, the Florence Gould Foundation, and Union Académique Internationale/International Union of Academies.
Libraries and Museums
Oxford’s collections hold an extensive range of French artefacts, books, manuscripts and art. At the start of the decade, there was exciting news regarding the Ashmolean museum's French art collection, relating to a highly important portrait by French impressionist artist Manet. The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, 1868, is one of only a handful of Manet paintings residing in the UK, but had been sold to a private foreign buyer and was due to be exported from the country. Judged to be of outstanding cultural importance, the culture minister Edward Vaizey put a temporary export ban on the painting. This opened up the opportunity for a British public institution to purchase at 27% of the market value, as long as the funds could be raised before the temporary ban expired. The Ashmolean swiftly launched its 'Save Manet' campaign appealing to public funding bodies, trusts, private individuals and members of the public to help keep this item of exceptional cultural significance from leaving the country. Over 8 months an extraordinary response meant that the museum was able to raise the £7.83 million required to keep the portrait in the UK. The museum called it "the most significant purchase in the Ashmolean's history" and it represented a triumph for Britain's cultural landscape.
Maison Française d'Oxford
Founded by the Universities of Oxford and Paris in 1946, the Maison Française d'Oxford was created through a mutual desire to develop cooperation between researchers, lecturers and students from both institutions. The institution aims to promote French culture and to be an agent for academic cooperation. As a research/cultural centre funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Maison Française organises and hosts lectures, seminars and cultural and scientific events. Two current research projects of the Maison Française are the 'History of Science' programme which brings together specialists of French and British research in the history of science, techniques and innovation, and the 'Classical Studies' programme, a multi-disciplinary network linking the Maison Française, Oxford's Faculties of Classics and Philosophy, and other European research centres. A solid network is being established both with IFREs (Instituts Français de Recherche à l'Étranger) and with other academic institutes of various European universities.
Oxford-Sciences Po Research Group
The Oxford-Sciences Po Research Group in the Social Sciences (OXPO) is a meeting point for social science scholars in Oxford and at Sciences Po in Paris, who work on the comparative analysis of the evolution of the transformation of political systems and societies, in Europe and beyond. It is made up of comparative research projects initiated by its member academics. The research group consists of the Department of Politics and International Relations, the Department of Sociology, a number of Oxford colleges, and the Maison Française d'Oxford, along with the laboratories of sociology and political science of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP) and the teachers of the École Doctorale of Sciences Po. In addition to joint research projects, OXPO also facilitates other types of exchange between the partner institutes, notably in teaching. Exmples of projects currently within OXPO include: 'Beyond the BRICs metaphor. Making Sense of Non-Western Power', 'The Renewal of the Sociology of the State' and 'French Politics'.
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
In recognition of their long history of join research and collaboration, Oxford University and CNRS signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012 to create the CNRS-Oxford Collaboration Scheme. This scheme helped the two partners in identifying new research projects to collaborate on over three years. In the 2014 round of funding, 9 workshops and 3 visits were funded, led by Oxford researchers in all four Divisions and the Ashmolean Museum, and their CNRS counterparts. Oxford and CNRS continue to collaborate to find ways of supporting future rounds of funding.
In addition to these institutional collaborations, individual academics are collaborating with their French colleagues in such fields as astrophysics, materials modelling at the nanoscale, zoology and earth sciences.
CoRoT - Investigating space from stars to habitable planets
Oxford University was one of the international partners in the CoRoT mission, a space telescope project led by the French space agency CNES and based at CNRS laboratories. The CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and Transits) space telescope was designed to detect planets outside our solar system - exoplanets. It did this by searching for small dips in the brightness of a star which indicates that an orbiting planet has passed in front of it, a technique known as asteroseismology. In June 2011, the team announced the discovery of ten new planets including a previously undiscovered star which may turn out to be only a few tens of millions of years old, twin Neptune-size planets, and a rare Saturn-like world. The other partners in this truly pan European project included a series of astronomical laboratories from all across France, and international partners in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the European Space Agency (ESA), plus a team of scientists from Denmark, Switzerland, and Portugal as well as Oxford University. The ground stations used for CoRoT were located in Kiruna (Sweden), Aussaguel (France), Hartebeesthoek (South Africa), Kourou (French Guyana), Alcantara (Brazil), and Vienna (Austria).
Student Lecturer Exchange and Year Abroad Schemes
A number of colleges have lecteur exchange schemes with French universities, including Nanterre (Paris X), the École Normale Supérieure in the rue d'Ulm (Paris) and Université Stendhal Grenoble III. Graduate students in French can apply for these lecteurships which are usually taken up in the second or third year of doctoral research. At undergraduate level, those studying French have the opportunity to spend a year abroad as part of their degree. Students have a range of options: they can study at a foreign university, do voluntary work, work in a foreign company or follow training courses in the country of their choice. The department and several colleges have schemes with French universities, which students are encouraged to take advantage of. Similarly, other departments and individual colleges also have agreements with French institutions for student exchange. Undergraduate students in Biochemistry and doctoral students in History can take advantage of established Erasmus exchange agreements. And Keble College and the École Normale Supérieure De Cachan, Paris, offer students the chance to spend either a semester or a full academic year studying at the partner university.
Research Funding in the Medical Sciences
A number of French organisations have provided key funding to Oxford medical science research projects over the years. The Institut de Recherches Internationales Servier supports the work of pharmacologist Professor Trevor Sharp's work in gene expression changes following antidepressant administration. The Association Française Contre Les Myopathies supports Professor Dame Kay Davies' research into finding effective treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and spinal muscular atrophy. Sanofi Aventis (France) supports Professor Rury Holman's diabetes trials at the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism (OCDEM). Sanofi Pasteur MSD sustains paediatric influenza vaccine trials in Professor Andrew Pollard's Oxford Vaccine Group and Paediatric Infection and Immunity Group. Finally, the Fondation Leducq supports Professor Rajesh Kharbanda's work in Cardiovascular Medicine.
France is the 9th largest source of students at Oxford and the numbers are ever increasing. There are over 250 French students studying at Oxford, two thirds of whom are postgraduates and a third of whom are full-time undergraduates. Close to 50% of undergraduates are studying humanities subjects, whereas French postgraduates are mainly concentrated in the Social Sciences and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences divisions.
Students of French nationality are eligible for a variety of scholarships available to students from EU member countries, including UK Research Council awards, the Jenkins Memorial Fund and the Scatcherd European Scholarships. Founded in 2003, Oxford University French Society (La Société Française de l’Université d’Oxford) is Oxford’s student-led cultural, political and social centre for promoting francophone culture. They offer a wide range of events regularly offering film nights, guest speakers, debates, concerts, and drinks and conversation evenings to members and non-members of the society alike. Their primary aim is to act as a vibrant forum where like-minded students can meet outside of academic work.