Erasmus Studies in France like a Pleasant Challenge

Last December the coordinator of LSMU International Relations and Studies Centre, Ms. Žaneta Dičkutė, went to the University of Montpellier (fr. Université de Montpellier) in Southern France for a visit. We asked the coordinator to tell us about the goals of the visit, done works and formed impressions.


What was the purpose of your visit?

My visit to the University of Montpellier (UM) had three main goals and directions. The first one was to meet the representatives of administration and academic community of the Faculty of Pharmacy who take part in implementation of Erasmus activities and to discuss the important aspects of exchange organization. Another purpose was to visit the LSMU student from the Faculty of Pharmacy who is currently studying at UM to discuss the questions relevant for her and to evaluate her integration into the UM academic and social life. The third goal was to initiate the Erasmus exchange programme with UM Faculty of Medicine.


What was your impression of Montpellier?

Montpellier met me with warmth that is unusual for December and with so missed sun that shows up so rarely in Lithuania. Despite almost summer-like weather, the city enjoys festive Christmas mood: the air is filled with the pleasant smell of hot wine, gingerbread, crêpes (thin pancakes spread with various condiments) and the noise of people coming to the Christmas fair lasts till the late evening. The long rows of Christmas huts invite tasting local goodies and suggest various home-made souvenirs.

Of course, although the atmosphere in the city was festive and joyful, the ripples from recent terror attacks in Paris were also felt: the famous Fountain of Three Graces (fr. Les Trois Grâces)on the main Place of Comedy (fr. Place de la Comédie) was surrounded by the sea of flowers and posters illustrating the unity and faith of the nation.


How can Montpellier city attract students?

Montpellier could be justly called one of the most student-oriented cities in France: every third resident of the city is a student, and Montpellier occupies the honourable third place among the most student-oriented cities, which rating is announced every year. It is not a metropolitan city, but it also is not a province. The public transport system is well developed, the universities have long history, the environment is student-friendly, and the night life receives favourable evaluations from local and foreign students, which make 16% of all the students at the University of Montpellier. The attractiveness is also reinforced by the Mediterranean beaches located just several kilometres away from the city. They are easily accessible even by city buses.

Moreover, the UM students receive numerous discounts: the price of one-year’s subscription at the University’s sports centre is not big, and the subscription allows going to various workouts without any limits. Besides, the Cultural Card that costs only 10 euros grants big discounts for tickets to cultural events in Montpellier, while the amount of high-quality culture is abundant in Montpellier: operas, festivals and numerous clubs with live performances!

The organization Crous Montpellier that takes care about accommodation in the University’s dormitories grants scholarships (fr. bourse), which cover part of the dormitory’s fee. Of course, in order to receive the scholarship, one has to take care about huge amount of documents. The French bureaucracy is hard to escape (the interviewee smiles); however, it is worth doing to save the money.


What could you tell about the UM Faculty of Pharmacy?

UM Faculty of Pharmacy was founded in 1903, and in 1928 it was transferred to the present premises, so the facilities are quite old. The area of 30 thousand m2 is occupied by the departments, laboratories, experimental pharmacy, Museum of Pharmacy, Centre of Drugs, FP library, and a small botanical garden dedicated for education. A total of 2647 students are studying in the Faculty of Pharmacy. There work 156 professors and 100 PhD students.

The major impression on me was made by the Centre of Drugs (fr. Droguier), which has more than 15 thousand exhibits from various regions, countries and island in the world. Besides, it stores the authentic illustrations of plants, directories and catalogues. The majority of collections were collected by the UM researchers and students. In such a way a continuity of the pharmaceutical history and its influence on the creation of new medicines are ensured.


How are the studies of Pharmacy conducted at the University of Montpellier? Do the Erasmus students succeed in getting assimilated into the study process?

The structure of the study programme of Pharmacy at UM differs a lot from ours and it causes certain difficulties for Erasmus students. For example, the main disciplines of pharmacy studies (biochemistry, pharmacology) studied by the LSMU students as integral study modules are divided into parts at UM and included into certain thematic units (cardiology, infectious diseases, endocrinology, neurology), which are set in different years of studies. Such a consistent course of studies is very beneficial for a permanent UM student, because the new knowledge is always related to the already obtained and thus it is consolidated better. However, this structure is not favourable for an Erasmus student who comes for one semester: the student does not have the knowledge received by local students during the previous stage of studies, and the gaps, which are difficult to fill in, appear as the amount of teaching material is abundant.

The Erasmus students do not receive any exclusive conditions or status. They have to take general exams, which are conducted in written and are encoded, thus the incorrectly formed answers (maybe because of the lack of language skills) are simply marked as incorrect. Moreover, all the exams of one semester are taken in one week, so it is difficult for a student to get prepared for such an examination marathon both with regard to the subjects and psychological aspects.

During our meeting with the faculty’s coordinators we discussed these problems and considered the possibility for the Erasmus students to take some exams orally preparing the questions only from the part of the theme studied by the student at UM. We will see later whether this discussion will affect the further policy of the faculty regarding the Erasmus students.   


And what is the attitude of UM Faculty of Pharmacy towards the studies of Pharmacy at LSMU? Are French interested in the possibility of exchange studies in Lithuania?

First of all, I believe that the main achievement from the meeting was that I succeeded in conveying the message about the studies of Pharmacy conducted at LSMU in the English language, about the modern FP teaching base, and possibilities of Erasmus exchange. It seemed that the faculty’s representatives heard about studies in English for the first time, although this fact is stated in the bilateral Erasmus agreement signed two years ago. Thus this meeting helped the faculty’s coordinators to see real possibilities to send the students for Erasmus studies to LSMU, as they have only few partners who offer Erasmus exchange studies in English and there are no French students who would be willing to study in some other foreign language. The poor level of foreign language skills is a sore point of the French academic youth.

Thus we hope for mutual exchange of students, researchers and lecturers in the future. The representatives of the faculty expressed strong desire to expand the cooperation limits by including the researchers into joint projects.


You have mentioned that one of the goals was to initiate the cooperation with UM Faculty of Medicine. Have you succeeded to implement it?

The Faculty’s representatives are proudly claiming that the Faculty of Medicine founded in 1280 (at present it has 5762 students) is the oldest actively operating Faculty of Medicine in the world, as its activity has never been stopped. The Faculty’s administration is located in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city – an architectural complex of the Cathedral of Saint Pierre of the 14th century. Thus it could be stated unquestionably that the studies of medicine at Montpellier have long and strong traditions. Therefore, we are happy that the Faculty’s representatives agreed willingly to sign the Erasmus agreement between the institutions and to exchange the students and lecturers. It means that LSMU is an equivalent Erasmus partner for the universities of other European countries.

We discussed the cooperation conditions and study programs with the coordinators of Erasmus and academic affairs, thus we see real perspectives to start the student exchange already from the next academic year.


Are the French universities in great request among the LSMU students studying medicine?

Oh yes! When we organize the selection of Erasmus students, every year we receive a huge number of applications, where the French universities are entered into the first position of priorities. Therefore as the demand is high, we attempt to increase the supply and search for new suitable partners in France.

The French universities are attractive for the students of the Faculty of Medicine because of the structure of studies based on formation of practical skills: the students perform mandatory practice starting with the third year in the section of clinical studies. The duration of practice is not shorter than five weeks in one unit. The student has much individual work and many responsibilities in the clinic. They are partly equal to the doctor’s work: patients’ examination, making a diagnosis, referral to specialists, etc. It is of special attractiveness to our students who want to acquire as much practical experience in the area they want to specialize in the future as possible.


What is important for choosing the Erasmus exchange partners?

At first we assess attentively the compatibility of the study programs of both universities – LSMU and a partner university. We assess the structure of studies, matching content of study modules/subjects, number of credits and we decide the students of which year could go to the selected partner university, etc.

Another important criterion is the social and financial welfare of the student. Therefore, we evaluate the geographical and economic situation of the country and the city, urban and university’s facilities, and variety of social services. The financial competencies of the students help to determine what part of the expenses could be covered by the Erasmus scholarship and how much of own funds the student would have to contribute. The majority of exchange students from LSMU does not have any additional financial resources (besides the Erasmus scholarship), thus when we look for new study places and exchange partners, we attempt to secure not only the high quality of studies, but also an attractive environment for life and studies.


What would you advise the students, who want to go for Erasmus studies to the University of Montpellier?

First of all, to know French well. It is the requirement applicable not only for the University of Montpellier, but also for other partners in France. We are continuously repeating to the students that they have to start learning the language (especially professional) intensively as early as possible because the student has to be able to speak with the patients, who usually do not know English, from the very beginning of the exchange period. According to the previous experience of the Erasmus students, when the students with good French skills, experience a real culture shock on arrival, because neither the administration not the professors create an exclusive “greenhouse” atmosphere for Erasmus students and do not apply any concessions, thus the high level of independence, good psychological preparation and of course solid knowledge of language are necessary for successful start.

Another important aspect is to understand that the studies at a partner university cannot and do not have to be the same as studies at home: the subjects are organized differently, the teaching material is conveyed differently, the number of credits is different, etc. Therefore, the students are afraid that the exchange period will not be included, that the student will bring the academic failures back home and will have to repeat the course of the whole year. We attempt to make the students understand that the University endeavours at being flexible while inducing the Erasmus exchange and allowing the students to study according to the individual curriculum, to account for lacking subjects after the Erasmus studies, etc.

We really value the students who accept the Erasmus challenge because we see sweet fruits of Erasmus: burning eyes, freer and improved personalities, desire to spread own experience in the University and outside of it. Such things make us glad and encourage working in that direction so that as many LSMU students could use the possibilities offered by the Erasmus programme as possible.


The interview was conducted by the specialist of public relations at LSMU, Ms. Indrė Levickytė