France's rigid educational system, which fixes the lifetime qualifications of many young people by the age of 20, faces a challenge with the introduction of a plan to develop continuing university education and training.
Education minister Claude All gre has called on higher education institutions to submit projects that will encourage adults to raise or update their skills on courses that will lead to recognised diplomas.
He has also set up a series of round-table conferences to investigate the needs of industry and business and of employees or job-seekers who want to improve their professional training.
The round table, under the chairmanship of Jean-Paul de Gaudemar, chief education officer of the Toulouse education authority, will also examine the ministry of education, research and technology itself to make recommendations on the quality of its service, the professional skills of its employees and the best use of their talents.
Since becoming education minister last year Mr All gre has emphasised the priority he gives to continuing learning. In February he set out his blueprint for a future education system in a 3,000-word article published in Le Monde.
He wrote: "We must acknowledge that from now on education, and training too, shall no longer be limited to the initial phase of school or university, but that we shall learn throughout our lifetime. Certainly, we must first acquire at school a certain amount of basic knowledge and there is no education without a general culture, without a base of common knowledge and values. But initial training must be complemented by continuing training. The constant to and fro between school and life has become a necessity. This new way of conceiving education will make the logic of the second chance one of the fundamental components of the education system."
Presenting his plan, the minister said his objective was to replace the system that awarded an individual all educational qualifications by age 20 with one that gave official recognition to professional skills and talent acquired over a lifetime.
He wrote to universities and other schools of higher education last October inviting them to submit suitable projects and was surprised to receive as many as 77 replies. A jury composed of five academics and five representatives of business and industry is sifting through the submissions, from which a dozen establishments will be chosen. These will be announced at the end of the month.
The proposals cover a wide range of disciplines. The 12 successful institutions will remain open through the year, and the courses will take place during holidays.