France to improve campus life

October 7, 2005

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has announced measures to improve university living and working conditions in an effort to placate irate students and teachers.

He has promised to spend E110 million (£75 million) this year on bringing campuses up to safety norms, and to continue the work next year.

"We have 30 years to catch up on in university building maintenance," said Francois Goulard, the Junior Higher Education and Research Minister.

Another priority was to convert some public buildings into student accommodation and to renovate existing housing "as rapidly as possible", he said.

Rouen University staff and students have been on strike since mid-September and several other campuses are in an uproar over lack of funds and dilapidated premises.

Mr de Villepin also asked Education Minister Gilles de Robien to draw up a plan to cut the failure rate among first-year university students. About half fail to get through to the second year, a figure that rises to 85 per cent for medical students.

The plan should focus on the transition between lycee and university, and will call for all universities to set up offices to help students find work placements and jobs.

Unef, the leading students' union, gave the measures a limited welcome. The extra cash for renovation "is a step in the right direction, but is clearly insufficient", it said. The union feared that an orientation scheme could become a new form of selection. In France, all baccalaureat holders are entitled to enter university.

In addition, Mr de Villepin unveiled the main points of the draft Research Reform Bill, due to be published this week. It will give an extra E19 million for public research between 2004 and 2010, to help push total research spending to the European Union target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

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