Last-minute French reform

May 5, 1995

The outgoing French government of Edouard Balladur has pushed through controversial university reforms between the two rounds of the country's presidential poll.

At its penultimate cabinet meeting before the final round of voting this Sunday, the government adopted two decrees altering the way university appointments are made and changing the makeup of the Conseil National des Universites, which decides appointments and promotions.

The measures give more say to senior faculty members in making appointments and scrap a "waiting list" of nominees for lectureships and professorships.

A third last-minute change affecting law courses was made by Francois Fillon, higher education minister. All three changes turn back measures introduced by Socialist presidential candidate Lionel Jospin in 1992 when he had the higher education portfolio.

The law course reform removes the continuous assessment and credits system introduced by Mr Jospin to attempt to reduce the high failure rate in the first two years of the French law diploma.

Both rightwing and leftwing academic unions, along with the university presidents' committee, have objected to the decrees.

One left-wing union called the measures an "about-turn", while the university presidents' committee said they were neither "timely" nor "urgent".

Mr Fillon argues that the system of nominating academics without matching the list to available vacancies raises false hopes and creates a pressure group likely to demand tenure en masse.

He demanded a right to reply when the respected daily Le Monde published a savage editorial, calling the "hasty passing" of the "counter-reforms" a mixture of "provocation", a "gift to the most conservative group in the universities", "scorn for dialogue" and the wish to leave a "poisoned issue" for his successors.

In his reply, Mr Fillon denied that the changes were last minute and called the waiting list appointment system "dishonest".

He said the law changes were intended to give "more law students a chance of success", not to diminish the role of continuous assessment.

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