Allegre eases students' lot

July 10, 1998

FRENCH education minister Claude Allegre has promised extra financial help for more students in his long-awaited student social plan, but he has ruled out a universal grant for all.

His measures fall short of pledges for reform made by Jacques Chirac in his presidential election campaign three years ago.

Announcing his intentions to members of the senate cultural affairs commission last week, Mr Allegre rejected changing the system of tax deductions to parents of students.

Student union UNEFID, politically close to the Socialist Party, had lobbied for reform to give all students greater financial independence.

But the minister laid out plans for raising the numbers eligible for means-tested grants from about 400,000 to 600,000 in three years, and for raising the amounts they will receive. Recipients will also be exempt from registration fees and social security contributions.

While he did not mention precise sums - negotiations between several government ministries and the relevant local authorities have yet to take place - estimates put the extra cost at up to a billion francs (Pounds 98 million) a year.

Latest figures reveal that direct and indirect state aid to students in 1996 totalled FFr26.6 billion.

But all students should benefit from:

* the planned construction of thousands of homes in the next five years, two-thirds in the Paris region

* subsidised transport including, from October, a youth season ticket providing a 40 per cent fare reduction around the capital

* improved health service, contributions to which will be included in university enrolment fees.

Students will get more independence and responsibility through elected student representatives, who would get administrative control of national and regional centres organising housing, transport and canteens. New campus-level commissions on student life will bring them closer to vice-chancellors and local councillors.

But the proposals fall short of student demands and President Chirac's 1995 election promises for a student charter.

A previous plan for students was introduced in 1991 by Lionel Jospin when he was education minister and Mr Allegre was his adviser. This was a time when university education was expanding and becoming accessible to new categories of low-income youngsters who had stayed on at school and passed their baccalaureat.

This latest version is designed to correct inequalities and help "young people who have the intellectual capacity to follow their studies without being restrained by obstacles of a material and financial nature", said the ministry's briefing notes to the senate.

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