France begins a debate on youth study and work

May 12, 2006

Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister, is leading a national debate on strengthening links between universities and employers.

The debate was announced at the end of March by President Jacques Chirac at the height of the nationwide protest by unions and students that caused the Government to abandon a youth employment reform that would have made it easier for employers to fire workers aged under 26.

This week at the Sorbonne, the focal point of student protests, Mr de Villepin introduced a 16-member university-employment commission headed by Patrick Hetzel, chief education officer at Limoges.

The commission will organise debates and hearings throughout the country with chief education officers, university presidents, student representatives, teachers, regional authorities and other interested parties. The talks will focus on three areas: careers guidance, information and entry into working life; the introduction of work-related courses within the European degree structure; and the development of training that alternates between university and the workplace.

The commission will not tackle controversial issues such as selection of students, greater university autonomy and increased fees.

The commission will have to work quickly - its timetable requires an interim report in June and conclusions in October, when the first measures are due to be applied.

Meanwhile, a charter for students on work placements - which would give them increased security and guarantees to education - was signed last week by four employers' organisations, three student unions and the junior Ministers for Higher Education and Employment.

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