French reformers hit out at red tape

May 15, 1998

FRANCE's higher education system is confused, bureaucratic and inegalitarian and urgently needs reorganising, says a report published last week.

A commission of inquiry, chaired by state counsellor Jacques Attali, was appointed last year by education minister Claude All gre to investigate how to improve coordination between the elite grandes ecoles, the universities and institutes of technology.

One controversial proposal is to prolong university initial and masters degrees by a year each, resulting in courses of three, five or eight years to conform more closely to other countries in Europe.

The present system, says the Attali report is "a mirror of the complexity of society", which had "become, over time, confused, bureaucratic and inegalitarian."

But while its authors do not propose tampering with the grandes ecoles, they recommend widening the schools' field of recruitment.

Senior public posts should be made available to the best university students, not just confined to graduates from the grandes ecoles, it says.

Other principal recommendations of the report include: a new regional division of universities into eight provinces from which would emerge university centres of excellence (piles universitaires provinciaux - PUP)

more independence for establishments to define their own curricula under a decentralised organisation of higher education

an assessment agency to set up a "public classification of university and grande ecole departments" composed of academics, managers and business representatives, which would have "automatic and immediate financial consequences for the budget of the establishment".

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