Egalitarian France measures success

October 26, 2001

France has for the first time published university league tables that measure student success and assess how effective individual universities are in overcoming student's social disadvantages.

The tables are compiled by the education ministry's department of programming and development. They measure success rates of students taking the diplome d'etudes universitaires generales (Deug), the initial, ostensibly two-year diploma that is offered by 81 French universities.

They also calculate the efficiency of establishments in accommodating students' social backgrounds.

The tables show that in 1999, 45.5 per cent of students overall passed the Deug in two years, 23.3 per cent in three. After five years, 80 per cent had succeeded.

Most universities' pass rates were more than 75 per cent, with about 20 institutions achieving more than 80 per cent. At five, fewer than 60 per cent of students obtained the qualification.

The results show that the most successful students were those who had specialised in science for the baccalaureat . Those with a general bac did better than students with a technology bac, who in turn did better than those who had studied for a vocational bac. Students who had repeated a year or more at school were more likely to fail.

Children of professional parents did better than those from working-class families - a controversial finding in a country that views its education system as the main way of reducing inequality.

To make comparisons between universities fairer, ministry statisticians adjusted the "real" results to allow for students' heterogeneity. It gave each establishment a positive or negative value-added score depending on whether its real result was better or worse than its simulated one.

The University of Perpignan came highest overall with a plus rating of 23.6. Two-thirds of its students passed the Deug in two years, and 100 per cent succeeded in five or fewer.

Paris-VIII was placed last, with a value-added score of 28. Here, the pass rate after two years was 23 per cent. Just under 42 per cent of students obtained their Deug after five years' study.

Paris-VIII, now known as Saint-Denis after the poor Parisian suburb where it is situated, started as the experimental Vincennes University after the 1968 student protests. It is non-selective and accepts applicants without qualifications.

Its student body is disproportionately composed of workers, foreigners and young people from the area, which has a low bac pass rate.

It compared poorly with Paris-IX, Dauphine, whose value-added score was 21.3 points, and had two and five-year Deug success rates of 80 per cent and 99 per cent. The institution is selective.

Other "efficient" universities included Le Havre, Lyon-II and Avignon. Bordeaux-IV, Strasbourg-II and Lille were among the poor performers.


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