Senate spins Web opening

March 8, 1996

French students and school-leavers are being invited to become the first users of the Senate's new World Wide Web site to voice opinion on the problems affecting undergraduate university courses.

The French parliament's upper house is currently conducting a six-month enquiry into pre-degree university diploma courses which suffer from high failure rates.

A series of hearings will be followed by an official report which may make legislative proposals. It is the first time the Internet is being used in such a process.

However, the senators admit they have no idea how many students will access their Web site, which launched a series of questions on the diploma courses on February 19.

France still has very few Net users and although all the universities are linked by an academic network Renater (the French equivalent of the Joint Academic Network), undergraduates do not usually have access to the Net. Any school-leavers keen to respond to the senators will find it even harder to access the Web site as only 30 French lycees have been connected to the Net.

"The Net is only just taking off in France. This is completely experimental. We hope at least academics will respond to our questionnaire," said Alain Faillard, advisor to the Senate's cultural affairs commission.

The Senate could have used the ubiquitous Minitel, but was keen to publicise its Web site. "There is a cybercafe just next to the Senate, always packed with Latin Quarter students - this could work well," said Mr Faillard.

The Senate remains extremely cautious about what goes on at its Web site. There will be no interactive forum on university issues.

Instead, a summary of responses to its questionnaire and updated questions will provide a degree of "filtered" interactivity, Mr Faillard said.

The French Senate's Net address is http://www.senat.fr.

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