France's professional university institutes (IUPs) fear that European harmonisation plans threaten their courses and the degrees they award.
In statements issued after an extraordinary general meeting last month, IUP directors and students condemned the "ministerial will to abolish their courses on the false pretext of European harmonisation".
They claimed that an agreement with the education ministry in December 2002 to retain theIUPs' ingénieur-maître diploma (an employment-related qualification that trains executives in areas such as engineering, business and international finance), the IUPs' charter and their three-year programme had not been respected.
A day of protest on November 13 attracted 5,000 students, and further action is being planned.
The IUP pattern of four years post- baccalauréat education (of which a year is spent on a diplôme d'études universitaires générales course, or Deug) does not fit the Bologna model. This model is based on three, five and eight-year courses with transferable credits, which are known in France as LMD (licence, masters and doctorate).
An education ministry circular in September redefined future IUP diplomas as worth 120 credits, equivalent to only two years' study, which would start after the licence and be labelled a "professional masters". It said:
"In this case, there will no longer be grounds for awarding the qualification of ingénieur-maître ."
Francis Artigue, chairman of the IUP directors' association, said this contradicted previous ministry positions and would lead to the IUPs' disappearance.
The protesters demanded that courses remain three years long, after a Deug or other two-year diploma, leading to the ingénieur-maître . "European harmonisation gives the ministry the opportunity to abolish what the IUP provides - an education that is monitored, supervised and complemented by appropriate and recognised professionals," the committee representing IUP students said.
IUPs were introduced in 2001. The system has proved to be a success. It is popular with employers and gives many students from modest backgrounds an opportunity to enter higher education.
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