France needs thousands more school-leavers a year to qualify for university places to fulfil the needs of higher education and the job market, according to a report delivered last week to education minister Jack Lang.
Fewer lycée pupils are choosing to take a general or technology baccalauréat that would entitle them to a place in higher education, but are opting instead for vocational courses or apprenticeships, says the report by Nicole Belloubet-Frier, chief education officer of Toulouse.
It estimates that there is an annual shortfall of between 10,000 and 16,000 bac holders. Undergraduate enrolments have been in a slight decline since the mid-1990s, instead of continuing to rise as they did during the period of university expansion that started in the 1980s.
Part of the problem is that France has failed to meet the target set in 1989 of raising 80 per cent of an age group to bac standard - the current level is 62 per cent, a total of about 500,000 bac passes a year.
But fewer pupils are taking the general bac , the academic stream that traditionally feeds the universities. Last year's 258,785 general bac passes represented the lowest score since 1990.
A spokeswoman for the Conférence des Présidents d'Université said that student numbers were not falling but "stagnating". One problem universities experienced in recent years was the sharp drop in those taking science.
Ms Belloubet-Frier's report makes 30 proposals aimed at encouraging more young people into higher education, including radical restructuring of the lycée courses leading to the bac .
It lays some of the blame for the shortfall in university enrolments on bad coordination between lycées and universities, leading to high failure rates during the first year of studies - a major reason why young people are rejecting higher education, the report says.